The Skin

“All around us is the skin,
helping keep our bodies in.”

I’ve known that poem sixty years.
There’s more to it than first appears.

If we were skinless, like a cloud,
would we not mingle with the crowd?

Would not our little bodies be
more boundless even than the sea,

and gaseous as the atmosphere?
Would we be there as well as here?

Would I be you, and you be me,
and both of us mere entropy?

The two it takes to tango need
to be discrete, not just discreet.

The skin, however, does have holes
for letting in and out our souls,

our food, and such necessities.
It is designed to serve and please.

It washes well, but with the years
gets wrinkles, little spots and smears,

and somehow doesn’t seem to fit
as seamlessly as once as it did.

But still it is my nomad’s tent,
my shelter, my integument,

the outside of myself, this thin,
seemingly superficial skin,

that hems me neatly all about,
keeping foreign bodies out,
and keeping me, a while yet, in.

Ursula K. Le Guin