by Marya Hornbacher


The way I built you was

With my hands. I have built

Others with my feet and teeth.

I built them from metal and scrap.

But you, you were easy as breathing.

I also built you with my pointed tongue,

Tracing your shape in the air.

My hands are muscular and

Very small.  You are made of teak.

I carved you with my knife. I built you

Beam by beam. I hauled the wood



This is how I learned to build a thing:

When I was three, I built a boat. I dragged

All the sticks and scraps of wood I could hold,

Choosing each one carefully, crouching

In the woods behind the house

In the middle of the night

In my white nightgown, barefoot

And carried them out of the woods

Into the guest bathroom

And dumped them in the tub.

I stood and studied it awhile.

Then I built a boat.


You were a beautiful

Thing, maybe the most beautiful

I’ve ever seen. You were almost

David. I tell the story often of

How, when someone asked Michelangelo

How he made David, he said

He just took away everything that wasn’t him.

I never told you that story.


Like anything else, you emerged from nothing

until you were tangible, solid in my hands.

Jawbone, cheekbone, the sharp

Slash of bone under the eye.

I felt the blood rush

Into your cheeks, the hot, flushed cheeks of

Beautiful boys.

Then you stood before me,

My Adam, Eve, the thing

That always existed but did not exist

Until I came.


I moved into your chest

And hid awhile.


Today it was time to leave.

I opened the door of your chest

And stepped out.

Tomorrow I will deconstruct you,

My most perfect structure,

Breaking you down joint by joint,

Beam by beam that I built.



Hot New York night. Rain. I push through the door. The heat sucks up

         to my limbs, wraps around them like

Beggars or children, cloying and wet. I walk through the air like I’m

         slogging through water toward

the train. The streets crawl with bodies, shoulder sliding on shoulder,

         Breast pressed into a stranger’s breast,

Bare legs slipping against one another like snakes. The rain’s so hot I’d swear

         I can hear the hiss when it hits the grates.


I walk down the stairs to the subway’s crackling light.  The floor

         Is sticky and covered with grime.

The people in the station stand around like upright corpses, tipping to the side

         In the wind of each train

hurtling by. We stand and tip in chorus. A rat scrabbles in the puddles on the tracks.


One by one, we step onto our trains.  Soon it is just me and death. We stand there

         Together, not together,

just strangers in an accidental place. We stare at the wall

         That says West 4th.

The A-line uptown screams to a stop. The doors suck closed behind him.

         I watch him slump

In the green plastic seat. He looks through the window, his wet hair and face lit

         haggard by the fluorescent light.

He looks as bored and unholy as anyone else.


I take the train to Coney Island, all abandoned neon in the middle of the night.

         I am looking for a stranger.

He has passed me on the street all day. Our shoulders

         touched, slid

Off like oiled things. I want to wrap my oiled limbs around this stranger and pull

         him deep, where he’ll

be no stranger, will be my familiar, in a dark room some hundred

         floors above the city,

in the heart of the hissing rain. All I need is a bed. I want to sleep

         the sleep of strange angels,

to scream my nightmare’s praise, feel him wrap me in his rough wings

         and whisper me to sleep.

MARYA HORNBACHER is the New York Times Bestselling author of five award-winning books of prose. She is currently at work on her sixth and seventh books, a work of science journalism and a collection of essays. These will be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2017.



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