by Zachary Caballero

If my mouth has a roof, then my tongue is a one story house. If my tongue is a one story house, then I must’ve built this house from the ground up. Must’ve poured wet cement like saliva each time I stepped on a stage. Must’ve been my way of building a home with the sheen of spit shining between the gap in my two front teeth, my two strongest bones. But this tongue is a soft home built in the long heat.

When I was young, my voice must’ve churned pieces of earth with water, and nothing or no one told me I was becoming stronger than concrete just by speaking. No, my tongue is not a hard house. But even silence can turn a soft home violent. I’ve seen silence become broken glass, a window smashed without reason. I want to speak without destroying. Even still, my hands have sometimes been hammers, even if my teeth refuse to be nails. Never in my life laid a foundation with my own two hands. Only spoke and spoke and spoke.

But let me tell you what I know about construction, about the Mexican men who stand on the skeletons they build, drinking cold beer in the afternoon, soon saying goodbye to the empires they’ve built. Kings of Creation. The sweat of their pride shining like the spit off my lips when my tongue lifts. And for a moment, their hot hands are not hammers, just hands, and their hands simply hold a cold promise like smoke in the lungs of the sky. Thinking of what I’ve held, I know

I’ve never laid a foundation, but I trust in the structures that refuse to sway. I know of the proud bodies we cling to, the flesh we confuse for walls that refuse to crumble, and how Mexican women were refuges for me as a boy, teaching me how to secure, how to stay, how to feed everything but the hurt. Sometimes, my mother would dig her teeth into my skin until I could see the imprint. My grandma too. The love in their mouth building a home in my bones, laying a foundation with each time she’d say, You are mine. Don’t you get it? My tongue is a home

I have inherited. The imprint, the scar tissue, the lessons—these are the bricks they lick their lips with, and this is the beginning of my tongue’s existence. A house I didn’t even mean to build. I must’ve learned to pour cement because I was searching for more, because there is always room for more, even if we have to build it back from scratch.

I take it all back. I am done with destroying, done with escaping, done with defiance. Because if my tongue is a house, then what are words, after all, but guests? And if words are guests, then all of this empty space makes sense. I’m not alone. I’m just waiting. Building suspense. The emptiness has a purpose. I am remembering all the guests I’ve let in, both those who did not want to stay, and all the ones that did. After all—

aren’t the names of our stories our favorite words anyway? This house is not meant for me. What I’ve confused for emptiness is just a room for you, precious guests. Here, take my breath. Here is my bed, a place to rest your head.

My tongue is a house, and at night, all the words are asleep. Sometimes, eight, or ten to a bed. Their feet opposite their heads, like me as a boy crowding in with my brothers and cousins, our little tongues little houses that were built with kisses and bricks. My tongue is a home, which means, I finally finished what I started. You, all my guests, are family. Come, come, come inside. The pleasure is mine. Meanwhile,

Outside, in the springtime silence, my friend Michael, opens his tongue like a house, separates his hair with his hands like a curtain letting light in, when he tells me of his travels in India, the places he’s been, the people that fed him, the houses he entered with invitation, the stories he stepped into, and when he was through, he looked at me, and whispered — In India, they told me, the guest is God. And isn’t it just like God, to take your breath with a word?