Matt Hohner

The Saw House

Matt Hohner

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Enter through the back door into a ballroom,

thin curtained windows, floor-to-ceiling stone

fireplace, parquet floors. Tucked in a corner,

a spiral staircase, disappearing helix twisting

between floors, its steps like a maple seed

helicoptering through a strobe light. Notice a pile

of remote controls on a built-in wall of cabinets.

Turn left into a pink room, single dining chair left

behind, stacked picture frames leaning against

the wall, an elegant cadenza. Into the dining room,

front of the house, collapsed drywall panels

and subfloor from the drooped ceiling, chandelier’s

broken arm dangling. Umber flutes of fungus

sprouting from the moldering baseboard puff

spores into the stale light at the slightest tremor.

Hold your breath and scamper into the hallway:

butter-yellow paint flecked and cracked, stair

risers streaked with water stains, a Rorschach’s

test of black mold splotches run the length

of the foyer wall and up the stairway.

A door swollen shut in the heat. Shoulder it. Shiny

steel medical examination tables and heavy surgical

equipment greet you like alien sentinels. Biohazard

waste buckets, wheeled x-ray machines and lights,

breathing machines and anesthesia monitors arranged

neatly. A row of cages along a wall. This was a veterinary

clinic. Breathe. There are no carcasses. No zombies.

No human experiments. A woman’s bachelor’s diploma

lies tossed on an exam table. University of Denver. 1973.

Metal tags never unpacked from a cardboard shipping box

on the counter of the reception room await furry necks.

Turn again into the kitchen: red Formica counters,

black appliances. Close the window someone left

open. Lock it. Do not open the refrigerator door.

Turn the electric stovetop knob to off.

Climb the spiral staircase. Now, a bedroom with new carpet

striped with vacuum cleaner tracks, a luxury master suite

with a screen door to the outside. To a breezeway?

This is another wing of the house. Take the breezeway

to a warped door, unlocked, and reenter the disaster zone.

Paint peels from the window ledges and doors in sheafs

like parchment, like sunburned skin. A ceiling fan sags

like a claw in a carnival game, poised to pluck silence

from the musty air over an empty bed frame, its flaccid

blades wilted from years of damp. This room sits over

the dining room. Enter another bedroom: weightlifting 

bars, a TV remote, buckled carpet, mold. Down the hall,

a boy’s room: a pile of bedding, elephants on the peeling

wallpaper, artwork from elementary and middle school

wrapped in cellophane drafting vellum. A few stuffed toys

on a closet’s top shelf. So much of a life discarded. 

Outside, the air begins to lift and drop the canopy of oak

branches next to the house. A storm approaches, west.

Finish up, lock the door behind you, upload the photos

and e-form. Fat drops start pattering the windshield.

Weeds and high grass bend and nod in the rain. Imagine

the waterfall down the main staircase as you pull away

from another wrecked life, into the sweltering, sticky

deluge of a mid-Atlantic weekday afternoon.

Matt Hohner

Matt Hohner’s poetry has been shortlisted for the Moth International Poetry Prize and won the Maryland Writers Association Poetry Prize, Oberon Poetry Prize, Sport Literate “Anything but Baseball” Poetry Prize, and Doolin Writers’ Weekend Poetry Prize. An editor on Loch Raven Review, Hohner’s collection Thresholds and Other Poems (Apprentice House) was published in 2018. His next book will be published by Salmon Poetry in 2022.