In praise of the multistate lottery,
Let us begin with the usual—it’s legal,
But it’s a swindle. The odd are ridiculous,
Harmful. It’s a sneak tax on the poor.
It’s a tax on the ignorant, on the stupid.
Yes, the poor, the ignorant, and the dense,
Three names, three fates for unfortunates—
Or four horsemen, if we throw in addiction.
How easy it is to dismiss this—the lottery,
Its cowardly legislators, the greedy rich,
Their greedy poor, the wicked fools, pathetic
Addicts. Each of us constitutes all of this.
What could there possibly be to praise?
Nothing much, but something somewhat
Significant, visible only in blatant contrast,
Long shadows on walls, black and white
Overexposed film photography, thus—
Life itself is a lottery in which none
Of the tickets weighs equally, none
Of the winners lives to savor their victory,
None of the odds can be known in advance,
And the poor and the addicted-to-chance
Have even less of a chance. The clerk
At Judd’s Auto in Fredonia, Arizona, tells
The customer in front of me, clutching
His new tickets and wadded up twenties
In a trembling hand while I wait patiently—
I, ever the patient, hanging from my crutches
With a soda can clutched in my own hand—
“Well, you never know, right? That’s why
You play. At least you know what you are
Getting yourself into. . .” He growls back,
“It’s fairer than the rest of it. One number’s
Got as good a chance as any. How many
Things can you do you can say that?”
She counts out his change. He’s not done.
“I know the odds here. I know ‘em going in.
And I’m equal.” The clerks nods, smiling
Now, getting into the spirit with him.
“I guess there’s nothing else like that, right?”
“Nothing much,” he grumbles, unwilling
To concede too much sacred space
To his gambling. He ambles off, a cowboy,
Still lean and narrow-hipped in his antiquity.
I hop to the counter after him, buy my Coke
And one, no two, of my own co-equal tickets.
Here’s to the multistate lottery, to all games
Ugly and mean-spirited but fairer than life—
I wrote this without having won it.
Thought this before I was in it.