Carl Palmer

CARL PALMER wrote to me:

“I sent you the poem, Dan, after reading about your dream. I felt it connected, supported.”

“While serving in the military, in Germany, I toured Dauchau, outside of Munich. Emotions resurfaced upon President Obama’s visit to Buchenwald, the shooting at the Holocaust Museum, the wheel-chaired prison guard’s return to face his crimes and then your revelation, all back-to-back, all recent. This prompted me to write/send you this poem.”

“This site has an author interview that covers my life’s biography and more. The poem was first published in The Houston Literary Review.


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Wheel-chaired into the lobby
from his assisted care room,

the elderly Jewish gentleman
squints into bright camera lights,

accepts the lottery check,
smiles at the television crew.

A newspaper reporter asks,
Was this a computer pick

or did you already have
some numbers in mind?

He focuses on her microphone,
as his hand rubs the sleeve

of the frayed gray sweater
covering his faded blue tattoo

~Carl Palmer~


[Dan’s comment: At first glance, this poem might seem to have little to do with leadership — the story of an old man caught in an ironic redemption: lotteries either kill you or make you rich. It reminds me of another lottery — for the draft — in which I personally participated. I was nineteen years old and the Viet Nam war needed more bodies for the body counts. My friends and I sat next to a radio listening for our birthdays to be called. If they were announced early on, it meant trying to get into the National Guard, fleeing to Canada, or going to war. If they were announced later, it meant safety and the continuation of college. Our game was to keep drinking until we heard our numbers come up. Mine was 319, very high, long into the drawing, and therefore very safe. I had a three day hang-over and woke up feeling guilty. It took awhile to figure out what the guilt was about.

These are experiences that inform consciousness; that inform the empathy needed to lead. The world can be a cruel or beneficent place, and that may depend on a roll of the dice. At the existential moment, given any roll, we learn to choose for ourselves and others what our lives will stand for.]