by Marya Hornbacher
HOW TO BUILD A THING
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
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
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.