Building Houses Out of Words

by Mark Waldrop

 I remember sitting there on the first unfinished

rooftop, watching you building houses out of

words.  You hammered in grammar and

punctuation; you said these things needed to be hammered in

by hand.  You drove the long straight exclamation

points carefully.  "These have a

specific purpose," you said, "one here and maybe another over there."

You pointed.  I nodded, and the heat was so real I thought it

hated us both.


You let me sit as close as I wanted and you'd

let me hammer too.  I bent all my nails and you

wouldn't give me any more.  You made me

straighten them by hand.


We stopped for lunch to eat burritos because that's

what people eat when they're building houses

out of words.


When the clouds pursed lips and blew muddy

kisses through dust we sawed pages.  "Sawing pages

is the most important goddamned thing about

building houses out of words," you said.


When I thought we were done, sun-baked-dry the first

summer evening you made your way down the ladder

as carefully as you had hammered.  "We need to stir the paint."

I was working on bent nails and you said, "houses made of

words need people in them."


When I started painting you told me I was better with big brush

strokes that were there for making the backgrounds, so

I used a roller to wipe out the people I made.  When you

told me that was the beauty of painting people on walls

I believed you.