Three generations of women sat him down and with a concern on their faces that could only come from being women and from caring a lot about love, told him that he was going to have to pay attention to the possibility of intimacy. The way he was going, he was not leaving any room for that. A woman was going to want him to share of himself. He was a young man, they told him, and he ought to be in the middle of it, in the middle of all the things he could do only when he was young.
He could see the young man they were talking about, and he wanted to tell them that he also liked him. He had a very soft spot for him, and he was sure that whatever young woman he was in the middle of it with liked him very much and that their time together was meaningful. He wanted to tell them that he was looking at that young man and young woman from high above. It was important that it was not a case of not seeing them. For now he was looking at them from high above, and he needed to do it in order to see that young man on the ground, in order to be that young man on the ground one day. It was the whole reason he was in the state he was in – back in his town and unable to tell anybody what it was that had been so hard about the city and which he also felt he had to go back to – it was because he kept going back and forth between the sky and the ground. He'd had to choose one, and he had chosen the ground, but there was a way to be there that had the sky in it.
And he saw it in the women, who wanted very much to be on the ground as they spoke to him about intimacy, but still had the sky in their faces too. There was his sister, for whom it was still a dream. There was his aunt, for whom it was a necessary part of life. And there was his cousin, for whom it was beginning to seem like some of both. But all of them had the sky in their faces. All of them had something bigger than them, something that went all over the world, that they could only see by looking up at. All he wanted was to see what he was looking up at. He wanted to see all of it, not just the part of it that applied to him, and he had to spend a little time up there to do it. It was a lonely place, but it was the loneliness he was born with. It was a place he had been headed for his whole life, and now he was there and he could not be upset about that.
He was very glad that he had a sister and an aunt and a cousin, and he was very glad that he had them to worry about his chance for intimacy. I am all for it, he wanted to tell them. I am all for the chance for intimacy. But they wanted to see him dream. They wanted to see him dream a little and he could not dream when he was in the sky looking at the whole dream below. He could not dream a separate dream that was all his own, that involved a young woman who looked a certain way, with whom he could sit in a certain kind of place, talking about a certain thing. He could have done that when he was traveling between the ground and the sky a million times a day, because he almost saw her several times in a day. Or he saw something in the city that revealed her, something that she liked or something that she cared about. He became a poet of all those things, but in the end what he was left with was a poem about himself.
And those were all good poems to have, he was glad for every one of them. But he wanted to be honest about them and about where they were. They were inside him and nowhere else. And she certainly had her own poems inside her, but he did not know them, and he couldn't dream about what he didn't know.
What he could tell them about her was the same things he could say about everybody. She was alive – that was enough for him to go on because he knew that her living contained everything that his did. He could tell them that she had a dark street inside her, lit up at night. He could tell them that she had a rush of people. It was funny to think that he would be able to say much more. It was funny because her being alive contained so much.
What more could I want, he thought. The same music that I like? I am too glad for a world that has music. The same books? I am far too glad for that. There were songs and books that he could place in that position, but placing them there was a choice. She was not any closer or farther away whether he placed them there or not. She was going to go right on doing whatever she was doing either way. And that was how he liked her best – exactly as close or as far as she actually was. And he was more interested in what he didn't know about her than what he did, because there was more truth in that. He didn't know who she was in terms of what he would one day want to say to her, because he didn't know what he would one day want to say.
They looked at him like he was making her as far as could be, and like he was making them as far as could be in the process. They looked like they were already worried about her, because there was a world that he was not going to tell her. Of course there was, he thought. There was one for her too. There was one for each of you. None of those were going to be able to be told. That's all right. It doesn't mean that we can't sit in a bright room together in the evening and drink tea.
Somehow it was the moment at hand that was the closest thing to her, if there had to be something that was close. It wasn't what he carried inside him, but how he responded to what was outside that made her seem not too far away. That was when he had a chance to present the part of him that he hoped to present to her. It was the part of him that looked things in the eye, and at the moment, what he was looking in the eye was the space between himself and anyone in the world, between himself and anyone in the room, and what he was going to do about that space. He had gone as far as he could go using poems to fill that space. What he had to use now was something unspeakable, something that was not even his own. It belonged to the universe, if it belonged to anybody, and he could see its presence in everything the universe contained. He was only a student of it, but it felt better to be a student of it than to be a teacher, a teacher trying to teach his poems to the world, however beautiful they might be.
He did not know what that meant for intimacy, except that he could not think of her as someone busy doing her own teaching, with whom he could finally sit and take a breath. He had looked for her before in the expressions of weariness he saw in the city, and it would be a very sweet weariness sometimes, but he had seen where weariness ended, and where it ended wasn't any place to embark on any intimacy from.
They wanted him to acknowledge that she was something that he could not prepare for, that she was going to open him up to parts of himself that he did not know and could not know otherwise, and he wanted to laugh and say, sure, sure, but she's inside of life, isn't she? As long as she was inside of that, he was going to be a little prepared, in the way that each day was preparation for the next, whether she was inside of one of those days or not. They wanted to see the questions in him that only she could answer, but what he had been trying to tell them from the time he had come home was that the questions were too urgent, they were all laid out in front of him at any time, they were laid out in front of him there in the bright room with his sister and his aunt and his cousin, and he could not discount the feeling that they were laid out in front of them too, and that they were after their own answers, whether they knew it or not. And he saw that his answers were going to be something that got under people, that went to the heart of the questions inside them, and he was glad about that because that was a place that he was very interested in going. That was a place that he was very interested in living, and it was very important that he figure out a way to do that politely. He could not walk right in and sit down as though the place belonged to him. He had to wait for an invitation, and then while he was there, he had to be a good guest. He had to be a good guest irrespective of how well he knew the host, because each of those places held a vast and trembling solitude, whether they belonged to three generations of women in his family or to someone he might pass by on the street in the city.
There was a kind of respect that he had to walk into those places with, and it was the respect of being willing to leave them unchanged. It did not matter what he thought of them while he was there. The important thing was that they had been built, and they had been built with poems. Somehow he was going to have to remember that they were all using the same material, even though he had felt for a long time that if everybody were to use the material he was using, it would put an end to that solitude for good, his own and everybody's. He could not assume the burden of everybody's any more, and he felt that if he took care of his own, it would take care of everybody's along the way.
There had been no young woman who had wanted him to approach her talking of everybody, at any rate. They had wanted him to approach talking of himself. The everybody talk belonged to the sky, and the sky was not where a young man and a young woman went walking in the evening among city lights. It was the ground, and it was a good and solid place to walk, especially since there was sky enough in the thought of where the night might go.
If it was going to be in his hands though, if his presence on the ground or in the sky was going to be in his hands, then it was going to be all the way in his hands, just as the going back and forth between the ground and the sky had felt all the way out of his hands before. And if it was in his hands, then there was no young woman to dream of, because whoever she was, whatever intimacy they had would be preceded by a choice, and it was the same choice that he was making all the time. He was making the choice for intimacy there in the room with his sister and his aunt and his cousin, they just couldn't see it on his face because the intimacy he was making a choice for encompassed more than a young woman. It encompassed everybody, and she was a big part of it, but she was not its beginning and its end. She could not be its beginning and its end when the intimacy that he was dealing in did not even begin or end with him. Its beginning was long before he was born, and its ending was nothing he could say.
He wanted to tell them about that intimacy, and that it ought to count for intimacy as much as the kind they spoke of, but just then it seemed like the most intimate thing to do was not to say it out loud, to just start showing it, to start showing it in the same way that he would if he were by himself, which was where intimacy had come to him in the first place. And he knew that that was the intimacy he would always come back to, to send all the other intimacies through, and he proceeded to send them there for the people with whom he happened to be sitting in a room.