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  • Claire Summa

Weeping for Hugo House

Where the House was.

There’s been quite a lot of excitement around Hugo House in the past few weeks. First, the Final Reading, featuring the performances of Jack Chelgren, Cali Kopczick, Rebecca Brown, Lori Goldston, Frances McCue, and the House itself. As you have probably heard by now, rain clogged an upstairs drain, causing the water to flow downstream indoors. This occurred during Kopczick’s reading, forcing her to repeat her final poem’s first lines, “Somehow, the sun always slants up / through the window.” While fitting words to fight the storm, the rest of the poem remains a mystery due to the close crash of a light fixture next to an audience member. The Hugo House staff steered the flood of audience members outside while trying to keep the literal flood from taking over more of the House. There was no great panic or fear, only nervous excitement and worry that the penultimate event of the House might end prematurely. Meanwhile, Ryan and Luke sprang into action. They quickly shot footage of the broken light, the empty stage, and dueling floods, repeating with delight that “you can’t write this” when it comes to a documentary about a literary landmark’s destruction. When all the excitement was over and the fire department approved the building’s safety, the night continued on in the back theatre. Lori Goldston played, Frances McCue read, and we listened, to the House’s final performance.

The House was demolished less than 3 weeks later. I could not be there in person the first day of its demolition so I watched through our social media. I felt powerless. My attendance there would have changed nothing but there is no substitute for being physically present around that kind of emotion. Still, I followed the demolition until the next morning, when I took a few moments to stand across from the site. The construction team was circled up and the excavator was still for a while. I spotted a chunk of orange wall I recognized, and thought back to the night of the final reading.

How Goldston played her cello through the mess of confusion like the band aboard the deck of the Titanic.

How I slowly walked through the downstairs, reading the walls for the final time, walls I could see now in the place where the house was.

How I sat outside the theater, leaning against the chipped doors to hear Frances’ poetry that was about the house but not really about a house.

And I smiled at the demolition. Because the band played on. And the band will play on, as long as there are people who listen.

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