Ursula K. Le Guin

Notes from the Inner City

Daughter of itinerants,

ungrateful refusers of benefits and charity,

in terror of the all-embracing arms

I turned from the tabernacles of turkey

and progeny of toothpaste, I ran and hid

from the love that damns and pardons,

I dodged the draft from the golden doors

and let the wild west wind carry me

with torn newspapers, cigarette butts, condoms,

up against the chainlink fence at the world’s ends

in a red November evening.

There were some others there. They had lit fires.

I found some trash and lit a fire too.

You keep away from the hyped-up kids

and the old guys fighting Troy and Nam

and the preachers even here

creating dogma out of antimatter.

You don’t listen to the rant.

You listen for whispers,

sometimes a song.

One song ends

arise and unbuild it again

One begins

From far, from eve and morning

An old song says

O genus infelix humanum

and the children sing

come away

come out and play

the moon doth shine as bright as day

You find your family where you least expect it

but you have to let them go.

A lot of them are dead before you met them.

Or not born. You know them. Your eyes meet for a moment in the flickering light

by the traschcan fire. Hey, brother.

Hey, little auntie.

Hello, baby.

After a while you get around to marking

a leanto on somebody else’s shack

with pieces of plywood, plastic, cardboard

and the pieces hold each other up

as the keystone holds the ancient arch

if you do it right. Scraps of aluminum,

bright junk, bottlecaps, decorate

our shelters, particular

and elaborate as butterflies or snowflakes

or human eyes. We inhabit them

a while, each alone.

Then we move on,

because we fear our longing.

Because we wanted home so much

and looked for it so long, we found

no house of stone or wood or word to hold it.

So all around the city they call sacred

we live in the exurbs of certainty,

the shantytowns of righteousness.

They fear our little separate fires

scattered like stars in the indifferent night,

and shut their ears when voices cry

all down the silent streets

between the shuttered windows,

the steel-grilled banks, the locked cathedrals,

children, children, come away

-- Ursula K. LeGuin 2006


Fifth Estate #373, Fall 2006