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A Map of the City

October 5, 2013

By Thom Gunn

Gunn, a gay English intellectual in San Francisco, wrote this poem about big cities’ opportunities for risky sexual adventure; why else view the city at night? Somehow he got through the AIDS epidemic unscathed, and died in 2004, age 74, of something else. Perhaps he was more cautious than he let on.

A Map of the City

I stand upon a hill and see
A luminous country under me,
Through which at two the drunk sailor must weave;
The transient’s pause, the sailor’s leave.

I notice, looking down the hill,
Arms braced upon a window sill;
And on the web of fire escapes
Move the potential, the grey shapes.

I hold the city here, complete;
And every shape defined by light
Is mine, or corresponds to mine,
Some flickering or some steady shine.

This map is ground of my delight.
Between the limits, night by night,
I watch a malady’s advance,
I recognize my love of chance.

By the recurrent lights I see
Endless potentiality,
The crowded, broken, and unfinished!
I would not have the risk diminished.

Thom Gunn

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