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POEM: Lottery

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Ida plays the lottery every day
walking slowly to the pharmacy
next to the pizza shop

she hands a worn sheet of folded paper
to the Pakistani man who
pushes the numbers into the machine

then she sits next to the display
of walkers and canes,
painstakingly checking the ticket

7 24 23: Eddie, her oldest brother
he always dreamed of being an actor,
until that day he hit the beach
and it never stopped raining metal

11 19 24: That was her. She was
the only daughter, Mama’s pride and
the light in Papa’s eye. She was the one
her brothers looked out for

12 24 26: Walter, born Christmas Eve
the same year they’d had to move
because Papa lost his job after Mr. Monroe
skipped town with the receipts

3 13 46: The war was over, she and Tom
had moved into their bungalow near the
rail yard, and along came Edie, named after
the uncle she’d never meet

7 1 49: That was Joe, the quiet one. He
didn’t say much, but he didn’t miss much
either, and she knew one day he’d
be there to lean on, and he was

10 14 74: Joe and Liza got married
at the old church. It’s a set of fancy
condos now, next to an espresso shop
that used to be Gianelli’s bakery

6 30 76: Edie was a June bride, thirty
year old. She and Tom had given up hope,
figured Edie’d be living with them until they died.
Then Edie met Leroy at a church picnic

5 9 77: The day of the accident,
when Edie wouldn’t stop crying.
The policeman said it was nobody’s
fault, just fog and a slippery road

1 17 80: Her grandbaby, James.
She loved her children, but she’d
never known anything like the shiver
in her stomach when that baby smiled

10 5 91: She’d been holding Tom’s hand
when the time came. Everybody was there,
and Tom was peaceful. She slept
on the couch that night, Joe close at hand.

Ida plays the lottery every day
the same careful numbers
she doesn’t play to win, just to remember

Published in Audio Poems My poems Poetry


  1. Interesting insight. I’ve never really understood why anyone would gamble, so this is helpful — and a great device for a thumbnail biography.

    • @Dave: Thanks very much. I feel the same way about the lottery and gambling, and of course I’ve romanticized this person’s rationale. It just seems so sad otherwise.

      @Chuck: That’s a wonderful compliment. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Love that one. It’s like the shorthand of a “This American Life” story.

  3. This is quite powerful. A well crafted poem. Much better than I imagined it could be when I read your thumbnail of the concept on RWP.

  4. Thoughtfully worked out, perhaps this is the lottery of life!

  5. Jason,
    A very well crafted poem indeed!

  6. […] Matt followed me with a strong set, some of which came from his master’s thesis, a book-length collection called All Water. Matt is passionate about music and fishing and human relationships, all of which comes through in his work. As I mentioned, he also spent eight years in the military, and his experiences certainly inform his writing. Matt read two of my poems, too – “Come with me, Shelby” and “Lottery.” […]

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