Nocturnal Sweepstakes

Elizabeth Torres (Author)
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The vision begins with a river. From this river, you can see a village, marine life, and ancestral rituals. It is here that you recognize origins, and a poison beginning to spread through paradise. Suddenly, a premonition: a wounded animal. The certainty of war cries. What you take with you is what you become, each movement a gamble, a lottery of life that transforms you until this moment, when uncertainty becomes an ally.

Lotería: Nocturnal Sweepstakes is a collection of deeply evocative coming-of-age poems that take the reader on a voyage through the intimate experiences of displacement. Conjuring dreamlike visions of extravagant fruits and rivers animated by the power of divination, these poems follow the speaker from the lash of war’s arrival through an urgent escape and reinvention in a land that saves with maternal instinct but also smothers its children.

In this bilingual collection, Colombian American poet Elizabeth Torres threads together the stories of family dynamics and the realities of migration with the archetypes of tarot and the traditional Lotería game, used for centuries as an object of divination and entertainment. Through these themes and images, the poems in Lotería narrate intimate moments in the lives and journeys of migrants, refugees, and all who have been forced into metamorphosis in order to reach the other side of the river.

Winner of the 2022 Ambroggio Prize of the Academy of American Poets, this collection showcases masterfully crafted and translated poems.

"This poetry collection by poet/multimedia impresario Elizabeth Torres questions fate’s determination that some people must flee their homes and/or homeland, ostensibly to safer realms, only to forever bear the psychic insecurity of the eternal refugee. She writes in “The Diagnosis”, “Displacement is a disease.” Home is a fraught concept in her poems, tempting in its ideal of comfort and repulsive in its reality of oppression. “There is evidence of my existence…” she writes in “The Family”, “but some things are better off forgotten.” The poems are structured in chapters marked by a series of tarot-like cards, leading the reader to question the fairness and randomness of suffering caused by displacement. “The sounds of the clock marking the negative time/ from the moment of departure.” Though the narrator and the reader hope for fulfilled promises in capitalist society, both looking back and looking forward are equally unsettling. Torres writes in “The Kilometer”: “The word ‘return’ began to wither away/ and we stopped giving it water so it would no longer suffer.” And in “Death”: “so many unpaid debts/ so many reasons to go on living.” These emotionally electric poems challenge our belief in home and in fairness being equally accessible. With the number of refugees increasing every year, and doubling in the past decade, this is a timely collection that will open the reader’s heart to the precarious notion of having a home to believe in and return to."—Michael Favala Goldman, author of Small Sovereign

"In every beginning, there is a river that entices with its generational wisdom, its own invocations, its own knowledge that what will come is what has been. Lotería: Nocturnal Sweepstakes alchemizes Lotería symbology as vessels for myth, migration, and becoming. What belongs to centuries of play and divination is also seen anew in this text; we learn how even a sound can cause a room to wither. Poems arising from archetypical cards blazon out with new relevance; The Milk and The Customs Office have as much to say as The Wall, as much about chaos and loss as they offer moments when the human experience, its fullness, becomes universal. ‘But how do I tell the builders / I don’t want grey cement / attaching me to the ground?’ This book reminds us that the drums of war continue to beat their fear and devastation into one’s bones even after the body has risen to the sky, leaving runways of scattered articles of life. What we leave behind in hopes of peace! Injustice waits when you land and caws your name in front of its crow ‘collection of panicked deer eyes.’ The game plays on, and these poems invite a gamble: read and you just might change your life. The river will be there, at the beginning, and it may become the rain within you.”—Raina J. León, author of sombra: (dis)locate


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