winning the lottery
It’s a game everyone plays. In the night-
shift idle chatter, the smoke break grunting,
the conversation with perfect strangers.
When I ask can I get you anything
else? the woman, her face hewn with age, spits
yeah, how about tonight’s winning numbers.
She is a million sagging faces, every night’s rancid
voices and wilted jokes. Sometimes it’s yeah,
a million dollars. Sometimes it’s filthy. Sometimes
it gets big, sometimes you feel lucky, sometimes
it’s just the only easy thing to talk about.
But everyone does. The houses in the hills for their
mother, their brother, the waitress. The businesses
started. The cars, the diplomas, the debts
paid off. My lover says he’d sleep in a different city
every week, he’d never do laundry again.
We rock back on our heels, take another drag, whistle
under our breath, hum that damn song. Everyone’s
got their tell. It’s easy to talk about. It’s not complaining,
exactly. Everyone’s got an answer, even if they’d really
just blow it all on one house with too many rooms, or go
bankrupt playing high roller, or leave it all in the bank
and watch it for years, afraid it would bite. Everyone’s
played this game. I’ve never been good at it, in the way
I don’t have a lot of party tricks. A vast array
of magazine subscriptions, a near-infinite number of
french fries. The truth is, I can’t imagine what I’d buy.
The same things as everyone else, maybe—a new car,
a soothing lie. Everyone knows, when they play the game,
that money is an unstable element, and highly reactive.
That the things we actually want are embarrassingly
small. That a refrain that goes if I had about fifty more dollars
is not terribly catchy. That the one-in-a-million ticket
doesn’t buy the thing we all imagine on our smoke breaks,
the thing we try to imitate in our cheap suits, someone to tell us,
and mean it, that we’re safe, safe, safe