Originally published in Firethorne: The Gustavus Journal of Literary and Graphic Arts – Tristan worked with his college Campus Chapter, went on five Collegiate Challenge trips, and now is serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Habitat. He has had a lot of really meaningful experiences, and this poem was a way to communicate some of the bigger lessons he’s learned through working with Habitat.

Step one:

Stake the lot.
You need to figure out
your boundaries
before growth can happen.
Pick somewhere
that will challenge you.

Step two:
Lay the foundation.
You learn a lot about people
when you’re constantly hearing,
“You’re a quarter inch too high.”
Scrape off some mortar
and ask another question.

Step three:
Raise the walls.
You’ll be impressed
by how important each person is
in bearing their weight.
Let this framework
guide your actions.

Step four:
Add the roof.
You’ll need patience,
because this step
takes energy and balance.
Be thankful for
the people helping you.

Step five:
You can’t build a house
without guarding it
from the cold.
Think about the family
sitting around a fireplace.

Step six:
You’ll be tempted to leave messages
on the walls.
Don’t hold back—
it’ll connect you to your work.

Step seven:
Trim the walls.
You’ll notice that
houses come together
like puzzles do.
Realize that you’ve assembled
a beautiful picture.

Step eight:
Build a yard.
You’ll be covered in dirt
after laying sod,
but don’t be discouraged.
After a couple rains,
things will grow naturally.