"The Lottery"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Sept. 27 2011 6:54 AM

"The Lottery"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Edward Hirsch read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.

Hundreds of us pressed tightly together

In the south lounge of the Forum

To watch the lottery on a giant TV screen.

We were stuck in the heart of the country,

But in Washington, the men in sober suits                        

Stood together on the bright stage

And faced the rolling cameras

For the invocation blessing our country,

Which would be a blessing to the world,

And the roll call of birth dates.

The mood among our motley seemed

Festive and fearful, seething, curious. 

The selection: a random sequence

Of blue capsules mixed in a shoe box

And pulled out of a glass bowl.

September 14thwas the first date

Pasted onto an enormous white board

With 365 more empty slots.

April 24th: the lucky second.

Someone muttered, "I'm fucked"; 

Someone lit a joint, as at a concert;

And the girl next to me began to sob

For her high-school boyfriend in Cedar Falls

Whose birthday was December 30th.

History existed only in textbooks,

But it arrived for us on December 1st, 1969,

With the Selective Service System.

Those blue plastic capsules opened,

And people drifted away when their days

Were called to call their parents

Or get drunk or pack for Saskatchewan—

Where was it, anyway?—or muse over

The randomness of dying in Vietnam.




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