Lottery

Lottery

Everything my mother needs
can be found at Woodman's:
cigarettes, milk, unsalted rice cakes
and six black bottles of diet cola.
 
I want to buy a lottery ticket
she adds, weaving stiff-kneed,
half-blind, to the far end of the store
near the videos and packaged liquor.
 
Neither of us knows how to go about it.
I fumble, rubbing in the dots
from numbers she has already scribbled
on a large scrap of cardboard.
 
I look at her familiar cursive
and wonder what they are,
these numbers that are not our ages,
birthdays, not her wedding anniversary.
 
That's six and a half million a year for life!
she says of the man who won last winter,
and I don't ask how one figured
the years left in his life.
 
Nor do I ask if that money
could buy back her teeth and eyes.
Her strong bones and lean flesh.
Buy back the summers she played
 
squirt guns with us and caught fireflies
we froze and sold to science
for thirty cents a hundred.
No one has claimed it! she whispers,

as if everything is still possible.


First published in Prairie Schooner, 1999; later anthologized in The Southern Poetry Anthology VI and Switched on Gutenberg. “Lottery” won the Mandy Poetry Prize in 2005 and was the subject of an essay on the editing process in Poem, Revised by Marion Street Press, 2008.