In search of the American experience

For three days, we’ll become surrogate-residents of the split-level. All three of us saw it.”

Fear was written on their faces. Early into his deployment in Afghanistan, he witnessed a father bring a burned five-year-old girl to the edge of a US military base. We are doing our time, until our parole is granted and we are sent home. She would use the left-over soap. We gave her things, things we were going to throw away, worn out running shoes, half empty bottles of shampoo, socks with holes. ***

The ethnic cleansing that went on in Kosovo, the former republic of Yugoslavia, during the 1990s was largely based on religion. That was his bio. My father crawls through the window, and I prepare the camera, waiting for him to open the front door. I grabbed the sandbag on his head and shook it once and said. The two men shook uncontrollably. The sergeant of the guard jumped on top of him and punched him repeatedly in the head and body. “Let‘s just leave the damned thing here: ‘Spacious split-level with complimentary television’.”

“We‘ve gotten it this far,” my father says through a half-laugh. Four bag chairs sat next to the picnic table, arranged in a row facing a TV tuned to the Armed Forces Network. ***

I’d wanted this event to make the local newspaper like Lily’s estate sale had – “Historic Home Demolished” – but it was to be strictly a family affair. She’d kept the plastic on the lampshades, too – as if she’d somehow sensed this was coming. The camouflage-print bandana he has tied around his bald head is saturated with sweat. I met Steve in a bleak Rust Belt mid-American town. The Rise and Fall of the US Mortgage and Credit Markets: A Comprehensive Analysis of the Market Meltdown. All is documented in the aperture of a camera lens, per the bank’s demand, in shots a daughter takes to pictorially document the loss. He said it was an Asian thing. But into how many homes must I watch my father break and enter? I told them my side of the story. This place the rest of the world forgot. We are hinged at our hips, our arms forming a roof above our heads, our hands palm to palm-an apex. Now bricks and mortar fill the void that once held colorful stain glass windows. Their stories were hard to believe, but it was evident that they were convinced they had seen something. Steve Carlsen in his US army days

The Zatenge Church By Steve Carlsen

The old church stood grey as the sky from which the rain fell. I ease down a step, letting the television slide toward him. For this abiding belief, he votes a conservative ticket, not out of ill-compassion, but because it’s the American way. The other one held his composure. I’ve come to accept the terms of the terrain and the potential cost. “Screw Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac!” I say. You just have to go find them. A limestone statue of the Blessed Mother stands amongst the headstones. There is no artifice, no apology. The headline for the article published in the local newspaper described the sale this way: “It was a Great Day for an Auction – Bargains Galore and You Name the Price.” Lily described the event in her journal differently: “This is a day I will never forget, and I never want to go through another like it again.” She stares out from a small photograph in the article, her lips slightly pursed, a cap covering her short white hair, wrinkles running deep around her eyes. Steve Carlsen bears the burden of America’s greatness. Neither group was by any means innocent. Then the world looked away. The driver straps it to a bar lining the trailer’s wall, steps down, nods goodbye. The doors and windows are new, and plastic covers the lampshades of shiny brass lamps atop matching oak end tables on either side of our new blue shell-backed couch. They were all dressed in their best cloths. She never asked for any. She had two boys and a girl. There was a single glairing light bulb hanging from a bare wire. At times, I believe America asks more of its citizens, or challenges them with the simple act of trying to survive. We are young men, in our late teens and early twenties, cutting our teeth on life. Fear of the unknown. She sat at the white picnic table and looked at them. There was a man and three children with her. She was missing some teeth. And what words might bring me solace now? All the good you have done never seems good enough. We didn’t ask why she wanted a door, where she might display it. Rocks exploded in the embers like gunfire. Sometimes, the greatest asset a teacher possesses is the simple act of listening. “You gotta‘ keep them wet,“ he said, throwing water on them. The Hotel California was a make shift holding cell where we kept enemy combatants that we had captured. I can guide that VHS tape into my VCR, push play, and I’m inside that home, inside that portrait again, but not long after that Christmas, off-screen, my father told me it was over – that he and my mother were getting divorced, that all I once thought to be wound so tightly had come undone. After extensive investigation, an assessment of military operations, and an interrogation of the girl’s mother, it turned out that the daughter had been doused in gasoline and set ablaze by her father. “Proceed to the nearest road,” the GPS says. They said that America was grateful for their cooperation and understanding. She had a motherly way about her, even though she was just a few years older than us. She was not a thief. What we developed was a truthfulness, an ability to simply correspond from time to time, Sonya emerging from the chrysalis of deep hurts, edging ever closer to that defining story – first, her parents’ divorce, and later, in the emergence of her own fate as writer, amidst the seismic shift of what can happen when devoid of family and friends, the American economy tanked, leaving her bereft of home and money. God is all but forgotten, no longer trusted to protect and watch over His people. He would let out an occasional sob like a child that had cried himself to sleep. It sat there with its back to me, hunched over sitting on the weight bench. She was wearing a green homemade dress without an apron, and a white knitted shawl. A hand painted sign hanging above the door that said “Welcome to the Hotel California. We‘ll return to the split-level to photograph our performance of the maid service and to check for any trash we might have neglected to remove before. According to newspaper archives, there was a lawsuit (decided in their favor) about a race track near the river, and one of the two heads of the company was noted for hosting a Euchre party at his home – I imagine poker instead, cigars and scotch. We’ll remove two 17ft U-Hauls’ worth of trash from the split-level: we’ll photograph ourselves lifting 68 cubic yards – approximately 3.75 tons – into the truck by hand, and then we’ll take photographs again as we unload it, some of it at local charities, the rest at the dump, where we’ll turn heads, tossing contractor bag after contractor bag over the edge as fast as we can grab hold and let go, and heaving the furniture the charities turned away. She probably didn’t know what it was. According to the newspaper article, the mobile home “had less than enough room for all her possessions”; she took her horses and dogs “and every fine piece of furniture she could fit”. “Do you really believe that, that retarded hajji had something to do with the Christmas day attack.“ I said it sarcastically. Or what if the former residents of this home happen to return for something they forgot? I don’t think we could even feign the strength required to overhear some other father tell his daughter that he isn’t really Atlas or MacGyver, that he can‘t hold her home, her world-his dream for her-together anymore, that he can’t save the day with the tools beneath the canopy of his pickup. A tall tree line around the cemetery creates a natural barrier. We learn eventually that the father is dying of cancer. Putting it in her pocket, she didn’t open it. His slanted eyes were round with fear, he couldn’t stop shaking and mumbling. “Sign it,“ he said, staring directly at me. I take the photographs of our labor with artistic intent. His nose was pushed up his face and his cleft lip exposed his nostrils and what few teeth he had in his mouth. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.“

It was my shift to pull guard. Throughout the day, we loaded the back of my car with bricks, boards, banister rails – all of which weighted it in the months of snow to follow. She had scars on her arm, a hack job. If my father isn’t Atlas, he’s MacGyver, I decide: we’re making do. “Zdravo.”

Even a beautiful woman couldn’t make this language sexy. I say feral in the sense that she knew everything and yet had a shyness about her, a containment. I never liked the sergeant. Maybe I am just a cynic, but other records seem to indicate that the pair’s business practices weren’t entirely scrupulous. Encounters like this inform a life. He smelled of liniment and was dead less than six weeks later. She was. I didn‘t have a choice so I signed my name, and just like that six months of my life no longer existed. Hajji screamed, lurched forward and fell flat on his face. He zooms in on her ear, and she tucks her soft blonde hair out of the way. “He has a severed urethra,“ the medic said. I smiled and thanked her – this girl, not much older than me, butchered and damned, her life completely devastated by war and hate. “He can‘t even f–king talk.“ This was nothing I had ever signed up for. The medic took the sandbag off hajji‘s head and I saw his face for the first time. By the time of “Christmas Eve at Home 1987”, the house had been set back down and the interior remodels were in progress. I was told to intimidate them by yelling and to hit them with the barrel or the butt stock of my machine gun. The white gauze turned dark red and his blood felt warm in my bare hand. I’ve found that the act of dislocation reunites people, that in the off-chance of meeting someone, someplace remote, a bond is thus formed. I’d unhitch the family from normal life, and we’d hit the road. Most of us don’t give a f–k about this place. The large wooden doors chained shut, are locked with a heavy bolt, a spray of bullet holes is testament to the violent history of this old house of worship. We figured she just wanted closure and believed a door might suffice. Since I retired from Microsoft, I’ve led a transient life, living from the west to the east coasts, and like a travelling salesman hawking cures, I’ve advertised my arrival in the local newspaper, offering free weekend writing classes. “They do something in the light,” he says. Sometimes I’m not entirely sure why we keep doing what we do. “Shut the f–k up,“ the Sergeant said, first hitting the hajji in the side of the head with his fist, then kicking him in the nuts with the toe of his boot. Fannie collects Fabergé eggs, gestures dramatically when she speaks. She was poor and supported her entire family with this job. He led us back outside into the drizzle and showed us the guard towers, motor pool, and fuel point. Her husband wore faded corduroy pants and a brown sweater. Friends of the family rented the home until my cousin and his wife bought it recently. She was holding a brown paper bag in her right arm. Her instincts were toward a rural homestead self-reliance. Gil was the man with a mustache in profile for Cuticura, a remedy for “humors of the blood and skin”. Lily was the woman in the rocker reading a book in the advertisement for The Electropoise Company. The Christian Serbians were the minority in Kosovo at the time, and quickly found the tables turned when the majority, Muslim Albanians retaliated against their attacks. Only then will it fly with the birds. The one that had shit himself stood there shaking. The body lies in the ground, but never rests in peace. I’m letting her in.”

The radio beeped again. The other three quarters of the tent was set up like a gym. My mother films my father in his new summer blazer, and he insists it fits him just right. I wish foreclosure was just an absurd soap opera – that one could change the channel – and if there is a dream to be realized through home ownership, I wish that such a dream‘s realization could prove to be as good as the dream itself had been. Three years later, the Chisholms sold the land to a mortgage company. They gave the orders, they got the credit. “She was reading us a story,” I remembered. He said he’d thought about moving it to the nearest field instead: “But I don‘t think it would survive.”

“You’d have to tie it up to keep it from falling apart,” was my father’s take. Screaming into the radio, he said there was a ghost in the tower with him. I told Tyrah that Lily was shooting all her pistols and rifles from beyond the grave – whether in commemoration or defense of her property I refused to decide. Tyrah took a photograph of our father standing ten feet from the fire, his back to the camera, his arms straight above his head. She wore a faded blue, simple homemade dress and an apron that was grey from being washed in the river. I suspect the people reviewing these photographs for Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, hundreds of miles away from where we labor, won‘t think twice about their quality, let alone about the deeper story I want the photographs to tell – the story of a dream’s inadequacies, so often taken out with the trash. “Will it fit through the door?” I ask as if I’ve forgotten what we’ve already maneuvered through this door and so many others. ***

From foreclosed homes, we‘ve removed books like So, You Want a Divorce? I stood inside the living room and filmed him through a jagged frame of splintered boards where a wall used to be, and Tyrah snapped photographs from a variety of angles. No matter how I frame them, won’t all renderings of that place I once called home eventually turn to static? As a child, I believed my home was braced and battened, strong enough to shield me from all calamities. I figured the adrenalin rush he had from me getting in his face must have made him oblivious to the cold. I was going stir crazy in an eight by eight prison cell. Finely tired, the sergeant got up off the ground and kicked hajji once more. When the rain finely stopped, the big black crows flew out of the trees and picked at something near the fence. The next morning, he cut a pillow-sized hole in the floor beside the chimney so heat would drift directly upstairs where everyone slept. I believe there are appointed moments of revelation. She wore workmanlike jeans low on her hips and a plaid shirt, or she did when I knew her. Perhaps the abandonment of these books tells the same story as books chronicling the mortgage crisis and foreclosure have told: the loss of a home, as I’ve come to know it, is, indeed, a default, a meltdown, a fall. Our sector had two churches. Lily sold the property to him and my grandmother after Gil’s death in 1971, and they rented it to friends and family until my parents bought it in 1980, the year Tyrah was born and two years before I entered the scene. My father woke up late one winter night, tiptoed past our bedrooms, and checked the indoor thermometer downstairs, which read 39 degrees, even with the woodstove loaded and hot. She reached into a pocket of her sweater with her left hand and pulled out a yellow and white KFOR ID card. The prisoners were usually held for a couple of days while they were being interrogated by U.S. Seven miles from base camp, instead of rotating guard shifts and risking the daily journey, we lived on the small OP for a month at a time. What shape would my mother have made if she‘d been there, beside him? For the past couple of years, I‘ve been maintaining foreclosed homes throughout the northwest with my father for a property management vendor contracted by mortgage lenders like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Boredom and complacency constantly tugged at our eye lids, beckoning us to give up the fight and go to sleep. My father helps him strap the television to a dolly. Dirty fucking language, I thought to myself. The spooks apologized for arresting the wrong people. The Hajji‘s wails attracted attention and a medic came over to see what was wrong. Most of the organs were gone, eaten by the birds. The hajji that had shit himself began to cry out loud. She used her nub, what was left of her right arm to scrub at a spot of dried pizza sauce. Steve had a poem memorised which he had written about the child. I remembered “Christmas Eve at Home 1987” and my mother’s warnings: “Leave the doll in her box,” she’d said. He was the first, but not the last to succumb to the fear of the Zatenge Church. She always smiled her toothless smile. Each soldier was assigned foot locker. scarlsen2@hotmail.com But is there a way to analyze comprehensively the so-called trash my father and I have hauled away from foreclosures, or the human behaviors and foibles that might instigate the loss of a home – no matter the circumstances of that loss? The Hotel California got its name from the Eagles song. She smiled and handed me a warm loaf. ***

Miss Congeniality plunged a rag into a bucket of soap and water, rung it out with her left hand, and tossed the rag on the white picnic table. ***

During the first few years of my childhood, the home still had no insulation, no foundation – it couldn‘t hold the heat. Together, we weigh less than the television – it’s at least 300 pounds. But, here, on this side of the television screen, I am a spectator; I can no longer believe there is a foundation beneath me that holds everything in place. Do it Yourself and Understanding Human Behavior and Practical Problem Solver. The terrain is less steep, but more remote. ***

What we do is called Initial Services: securing the property, completing the “trashout” (removing what remains in the home) and performing the maid service, miscellaneous seasonal maintenance, and an inspection for damages (sometimes homeowners flood or burn their homes in an act of defiance). I could see my breath when I exhaled. ***

Lily’s estate sale drew hundreds of buyers. We all laughed. Her hair, black as the crows in the trees over the graveyard, was hidden under a bonnet. I read the paper. He showed us, too, the perimeter and the placement of the claymores. Are you the cleaning lady?”

She had been through the drill before. He was a sadistic f–k. My expertise is hands-on. She returned toward the end of my shift. Yet, if encountered under the right circumstances, at a trail head, or a mountain pass at 9,000ft, you can find a point of commonality, probing eventually what is almost always a psychological wound of some distant war. ***

The rain fell in torrents and I was glad I was in the guard tower. The Lieutenant giving the tour stopped and pointed to the weight bench. He‘s hunched against the upper half of the split-level’s staircase, bracing the projection television against his back – a Levi’s-clad Atlas holding up the world. No wonder there are ghosts and demons here. Scott’s Electric Hair Brush – $1.00 – was our bald father,” Tyrah said, pointing to him. “I’ll unhinge the damned door if I have to!”

But we’re able to tilt the television, turn it, and guide it at last over the doormat my father put down over the threshold. Caught in the barbed wire was a rotted human torso and most of an arm. The photographs we’ll take before we begin our labor, as well as during and after, will prove to the lenders its transformation. It fell off the shovel. We alternate resting it on the bucket, and then on the block of wood, moving it stair by stair until it lands on the floor of the entryway with a thud. It was the couple’s gift bestowed upon us for simply being there with them in our collective aloneness that solitary weekend. I refused to hit a man who was completely naked, zip tied with a sandbag over his head and suffering from hypothermia. The hajji that shit himself began to cry louder and that pissed the sergeant off more. They probably thought they would be executed. I’m squatting above him, gripping the bottom corners of the monstrosity, hoping the slip-grip on my gloves won’t give. I wanted to believe my father could do it if anyone could, that opening up the walls of that home all those years ago – and seeing how they fit together – had been practice for just such a feat. I pull a cigarette from my pack, hand it to my father, and pull out another for myself. “Is she hot, does she have big tits?”

I looked at her again – the grimace on her face every time she took a step – the teeth that were busted out of her head, the brutal rape she had endured, her shattered hips and pelvis, her missing hand. It was December and cold in the mountains. The Spooks believed that these two prisoners were part of the Christmas day assault on the outpost that I had survived several days prior. When she tore in half, I told my father to take the whole wall. My orders were to splash the prisoners with water every few minutes and make sure they never got dry. I smoked the cigarette down to the filter, then rolled the butt between my fingers to get rid of the ash and what little tobacco was left and put it in my pocket. She smiled again showing me her missing teeth. For Steve, the young girl defined his time in Afghanistan. ***

My childhood home stood in the mouth of a canyon in the outskirts of Ellensburg, Washington, a small town in the center of the state – “the Heart of Washington,” according to the local newspaper. I was asking people to tell their stories. Holding the photos to her breasts, she sobbed. I pictured it wrapped and ribboned, like Barbie’s Dream House, or like Sears’s model no. But our pay isn’t anything to brag about once we’ve subtracted the costs: fuel, U-Haul rentals, dump fees, our nights at Motel 6, general wear and tear on the pickup – not to mention upon us. ***

Entering a foreclosed home is usually straightforward enough – my father retrieves a key from the lockbox, opens the door – but sometimes we must “break and enter”. “Fuck you,” I screamed at the top of my lungs, to no one and everyone. Our mother was the beauty in profile for Procter & Gamble’s Vegetable Glycerin who wore a floppy-looking hat that resembled the one our mother wore when she gardened. The mortgage company eventually sold the land in 1911 – fair and square, as far as I can tell – to Francis M Standley. “Do not mistake my kindness for weakness.“

The Haji repeated a prayer over and over as I dragged him to his feet. The couple were in the last year of goodbyes, a deeply personal road trip of memories that would be carried into eternity. Women and young girls were brutally gang raped. She remained. Retaliation because the Serbs blew up a school or something.”

We stared at each other in amazement. The two-hour shift was only half over. “Not many people get to stand inside a home while it’s demolished,” Tyrah shouted over the clamor of the excavator. Two olive drab GP medium tents would be our sleeping quarters. The real Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are picky: no footprints across the floor, not a hair in the sink, not a streak on a windowpane or mirror, not a trace of ash on the sidewalk from where one of us might have stamped out a cigarette. They told him he would be court marshaled for disobeying an order, but his fear would not allow him to follow the order. It was one of their last trips together. The one that shit himself started to cry again. One of them had shit himself. The crows will pick pieces of flesh off whatever washes up and eat it.”

“This place is a f–king Edgar Allen Poe story.”

The Lieutenant reached into his pocket and pulled out a large key with a parachute cord. In late February, our platoon drew the short straw and we were assigned The Zatenge Church. ***

“We’ve got to get this damned thing out the door!” my father says. On the outside perimeter, two rows of triple stacked concertina wire prevent any unwanted visitors. Centerfolds from Hustler and Penthouse hung inside the tent. When she came to work that day, I gave her the picture I had taken. SJ Dunning was delivered to me in a trip into the Northwest. “Lights flicker, televisions turn to static,” I explain. I watched it for a few seconds and then it vanished.”

“Good thing you guys are being replace by the ghost busters,” I said. It’s a stated fact. The rain had stopped, briefly, the air cold and heavy with moisture. He unlocked the oversized lock, pulling free the chain holding the large wooden doors. “The cleaning lady is here. My father performed half the demolition. “Don’t take her out of the box.”

How am I supposed to play with a doll I can’t touch? He walked over to the prisoners and slapped them both in the face. He is a beam, a candle-the flames live and leaping high above his fingertips. It‘s 2010 – a mild day in June, and my father is wielding a giant screwdriver in one hand, a wrecking bar in the other, breaking into a split-level home through a basement window (we couldn’t get in through the door). It was a kind gentle smile. In this line of work, most everything becomes trash. She will forever remind me of one of those provocative – dare I say feral – waifs who inhabit the Pacific Northwest, the sort of mysterious, brooding individual made famous under the glare of grunge music. I refused to follow the orders. “Smile,” he says, and we do. Each corpse is piled one on top of another as prayers are said, and the heavy chain goes back on the heavy doors, and the church is locked. What book could have soothed me when that belief was shaken? A group of men gathered around our trucks. What book might my father have read from all those years ago to explain what would happen once we left? “F–king faggot pussy,“ the sergeant said as he pulled out a cigarette and lit it and walked away as if nothing had happened. In between these runs, we park at a campground or a Walmart parking lot and I start answering emails from prospective parties interested in my weekend writing sessions. We are a silhouette the shape of our own once-home ablaze behind us. They must have thought they were alone. But its floors had sloped, and its ceilings were bowed. “The tube that piss comes out of is severed inside his penis.“

With bare hands, I held a white gauze bandage on the haji‘s penis trying to stop the bleeding. When called to serve, he did so. There were hundreds of black crows cawing in the trees surrounding the cemetery. The sky was clear and there were more stars in the sky than I had ever seen in my life. There is no remedy for the passage of time – no magical hair brushes, no jars of Vegetable Glycerin, no bars of soap, no turns of the faucet. Our twelve-hour guard shifts passed slowly, each hour felt like a day. The quiet hajji said something to the one that had shit himself. They told stories of bodies and skeletons in the grave yard. Lily relocated to a mobile home set in a field bordering the home where my grandparents lived, a few miles down the road from “the home place”. Self-conscious, she tried to hide her right arm from me. When I entered the living room early that morning, camcorder in hand, I half-heartedly hoped I’d encounter traces of Christmas Eve at Home 1987: Barbie’s Dream House on the floor, perhaps, its rooms filled with furniture, scraps of wrapping paper insulating its cardboard walls. A few hours after, she left for home. Old age is a long way off, but old age comes quickly even for young men. The Hotel California By Steve Carlsen

I put my fleece watch cap on under my helmet as I walked over to the Hotel California. Hotel California, a makeshift holding cell where US soldiers in Afghanistan kept enemy combatants that they had captured. We picked up the RV after the disbursement of assets at a giant hanger where so many of these dreams are auctioned off in the failing health or death of those who had envisioned a longer run of years. It was how he was raised. I’ll leave at some appointed trail and then disappear for the better part of a day for one of those solo 75-mile training trail runs that provide the foundation for 24 hour ultra-running races. Her hands were folded in prayer. I remember lying near the metal grate he set there, staring through to the floor below, being told I’d fall through if I wasn’t careful, and I remember the makeshift steps that led up to the front door when the house was lifted so the foundation could be poured. I support the television with a knee. My cousin’s decision to demolish my childhood home shouldn’t have come as a shock, but it did. The more trash we remove, the more we get paid. I lit a cigarette and took a long drag and inhaled deep. I ran the few feet to him and grabbed the sandbag that was covering his head and shook it violently. I could describe countless such encounters and characters, but in the waning days of this month-long extravaganza of posted articles by myself and various associate writer friends and academics, I thought I might simply introduce two of the most enduring characters I met during these encounters, because I feel that the full reach of the American experience rises from the lived experience of those unselfconscious characters who sometimes emerge and begin a story. She will forever remind me of one of those provocative – dare I say feral – waifs who inhabit the Pacific Northwest

SJ Dunning was delivered to me in a trip into the Northwest. Soldiers trained to kill without a second thought were terrified of this place. I stood there and watched the two prisoners of war. At one point, for example, they attempted to use their mortgage company to pay off unrelated debts in the Sandwich Islands. It was no use. He was hysterical, walking around in circles, chain smoking cigarettes. A writing teacher, if honest, will be brief, advance quiet direction, and be guarded in the absolute praise of a writer still on a journey. When the prisoners were no longer full of useful information, a helicopter would fly out to our remote mountain outpost and pick up the prisoners, and fly them to a bigger base in Afghanistan and eventually on to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 115 (1908-1914), a 6-room Modern Cottage “with wood foundation, not excavated” bears a close resemblance. When the soldiers were done rapping their victim they would usually kill them, but it became common to allow young girls to live. I looked at my watch. Superstition compels them to bury their dead. An imposing military figure, he showed up under the utilitarian glare of a community college night class in a winter of deep snow. He had shit on the back of his legs and there was shit on the ground. In the fallout of a post-military life, he returned home and sustained himself by his wits, providing for his family as a mechanic and hunter. Their hands were zip tied behind their backs and their feet were zip tied together to prevent them from running away. F–kin killed em’ all. She had on the faded blue dress and apron she wore every day, her hair under a bonnet. It’s Big Sky country, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski territory, I call it – a land occupied by outcast characters, pilgrims of a modern displacement who end up embracing a Thoreau-like solitude. I read a book trying stave off boredom. The actual story proved more complicated. Weathered by the elements and time, her once delicately carved features are as worn as the headstones she watches over. Information on the heads of the mortgage company is scarce. I met Steve in a bleak Rust Belt mid-American town. What she did was pick up her pen. “She’ll get broken,” she warns. The church was empty, no pews, no organ, nothing, nothing but mold and bullet holes on one wall. In These are the Days of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Fannie and Freddie are unwed lovers sharing a mansion with marble floors, ornate chandeliers, gold-plated trim and baseboards. It beeped. The “before” photographs document the story of a homeowner’s departure. I filmed Tyrah removing a layer of wood paneling on the bathroom wall that covered the wallpaper which, she reminded me, had mesmerized us as children. Through the fog, I saw the labored gate of a lone figure, slowly trudging its way up the hill towards the church. We died and got wounded in the process, and those of us who survived, we guarded the prisoners. She cried. I used up an entire roll of film and gave her all thirty-two pictures I had taken. Out around Montana and the Dakotas, it’s different. The brown paper bag had ten fresh baked loaves of bread in it. To describe the style – it is mercilessly objective, mercenary in its details, in what a daughter and father signed up to do in the foreclosure aftermath – trashout properties, removing the belongings of people whose homes had been repossessed. As we’d bathed, as we’d brushed our teeth, as our mother had combed and braided our hair, we‘d projected our family onto the figures framed in its black & white antique newsprint advertisements for remedies and hygiene products. “Shoot the address outside. We couldn’t endure this labor if we weren’t once-removed from the heartbreak. “The photographs have to tell a story,” my father reminds me. The old man played solitaire with an attenuated feebleness, in the lick of his thumb and the unfolding of each card. The hundreds of thousands of people tortured and murdered, all civilians because they call their God by a different name. Every man did his time is solitary confinement different. I zoom in as my father muscles appliances and televisions into U-Hauls. I sat beside him, wondering what it would mean to hold fire in my hands as he did, what would become of the little girl I knew myself to be within the home behind me (a home I wouldn’t be able to call my own much longer) when the flame he was holding burned out. But we did the grunt work. Her eventual death revealed the stark underlying truth of what a people or a father might do to survive. Tyrah and I were the young girl standing on a rock at the water’s edge in John Collier’s “Water Baby” painting (appropriated by Pears Soap). They gave them their clothes back and let them get dressed. The violence is still something we don’t fully understand. The girl, burned almost beyond recognition, yet still alive, was simply set before the barracks as a grim effigy of America’s overreach in its indiscriminate capacity to maim and kill. You run enough like this into the wild and eventually you feel the trained eye of a sniper tracking you. An imposing military figure, he showed up under the utilitarian glare of a community college night class in a winter of deep snow

The first writer is Army Specialist Steve Carlsen, who, as a member of the 1st Battalion 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, served on a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo from 2001-02, then redeployed in the wake of 9/11 to Afghanistan between 2002-03. ***

The Spooks oversaw the combat outpost. He started his chainsaw. I saw her limping back up the hill towards the church. I stuck the shovel under the torso and picked it up. When she talked, it sounded like she was hawking loogies. We agreed to financial terms on what was an extravagant RV, really, a rock-star affair with appointed track-lit mahogany cabinetry, granite countertops, satellite TV and a tow package to drag a car. But reality ensues in homes like this one, and it rarely matches those dreams. He was in another platoon and he was a d–k from the time he woke up till the time he went to sleep. I watched the father help his son hobble away. “Shut the f–k up or I‘ll kill you.“

I put the barrel of my machinegun to his head. Most will have vetted me as the genuine article, as runner and writer, offering this once in a lifetime encounter to begin mapping out their life story. I exhaled and watched hajjis. The couple was enamoured by our transience and courage, by the fact that we had four kids at the time, and were sharing the isolation of a beach with them, in what we then owned – a small caravan. Every property must be as empty and as spotless – inside and outside – as humanly possible before we take the after photographs. Only later in our lives will we look back and allow our thoughts dwell on this place. The latch snaps. None of the nameless dead buried here will be nominated as a saint. When they took hajji to the medic for a fractured skull, he told the medic that hajji had jumped out of the truck. The church was blurred by the precipitation. It’s how I’ve managed life as an immigrant and ultra-runner in the second act of my post-Microsoft days. A central part of a writer’s life these days, with the proliferation of writing programmes and festivals offering master classes, is teaching. My father carefully nudged the trail of debris into the hole as it burned-the excavator’s arm an extension of his own. “I hope our friend Tom Bodett forgot to turn off the light again,” he jokes. Tyrah and I stood in the snow catching windows our father pried loose, my cousin’s oldest son peering curiously through the front window of his home behind us. Steve came with a horrific story. Tyrah and I slept in beds Lily left behind. Time is money and money is what is needed, so nights are spent in rundown motels in the advance of a new day and a new trashout, in the scavenge of others’ lives. I sat there in silence trying to stay warm, wondering what thoughts might be running through their heads. The piece published here by The Irish Times reckons with the fallout of the House Crash, a calamity familiar to Irish society, but in this memoir-in-progress, Notes from the Field of Foreclosure, it’s a story of physical and social integration, peculiar in its American telling. In a video labeled Christmas Eve at Home 1987, my older sister Tyrah and I tear open presents in the living room as my mother spins the knob on the stereo, searching for a station without static. Sears’s model no. I‘m peering over my shoulder now, hoping nosy neighbors won’t mistake my father for a burglar, and me for his accomplice. My grandfather had been close to the Popes for much of his life; having no children of their own, they considered him a son. ***

A GP large tent served as our chow hall and recreation area. “Realize your dreams through home ownership,” I say. We sullenly packed up our gear and drove seven miles into the country side, past bombed out houses that stood as sullen reminders to the recent war, arriving eventually at the small outpost that we would call home for the next four weeks. I zoom in upon his calloused hands gripping contractor bags, wiping windowpanes and mirrors, placing new keys into lockboxes – evidence of a supposed transformation. There is no peace here. There was no rebuke of the man’s religion or ethnicity. The Spooks told me that the sergeant of the guard had told them that I was abusing the prisoners. Her hand was missing just above the wrist. I know my father is thinking this too as he watches The Salvation Army truck merge onto the street and takes off his gloves. They killed each other by the hundreds of thousands, blowing up schools, churches, mosques and entire neighborhoods. I took a picture of her once. I go there for the scorch of summer, for the punishment of miles and the reach of my own limits. “Shut the f–k up now!“

I sat back down. He had been anticipating a $2,500 compensatory allowance the US military was authorised to distribute under the unfortunate and regrettable circumstances of civilian casualties. The Foreclosure of America: The Inside Story of the Rise and Fall of Countrywide Home Loans, the Mortgage Crisis, and the Default of the American Dream. ***

The footage is suspect. She helped herself to a can of soda in the fridge, the one fringe benefit of her job. To lighten his mood – this window is more stubborn than most – I regale him with my imaginary soap opera version of foreclosure, an absurd spin-off of soaps my mother watched when I was a child. “Daddy will have to put that together,” my mother says and then turns her attention to me and the china doll I’m unwrapping. ***

Almost 100 years after that home was first assembled it was torn down – January 16th, 2010. “This damned window!” my father says, his whole body in a lunge. You’d think that after lifting 3.75 tons (twice) moving a television would be child’s play, but the thing’s sheer magnitude – its potential to project life-sized cinema upon its screen, to frame our reflections in full – lends it substantial animus, as though it were purposefully resisting our efforts to bring this trashout to closure. The more trash we remove, the more we get paid.”

And yet in the dissolution of other lives, there’s an absolute honesty, a self-reckoning with what one must do to survive. She set the bag on a bench and removed the shawl covering it. I refused to splash them with water, it was too f–king cold. The missing hand and limp were courtesy of an Albanian gang rape. The body lies in limbo, between heaven and hell, waiting for the next heavy rain, when it will be regurgitated by the ground. The one was still crying and it was beginning to get on my nerves. “Have you been throwing water on them?“

“No Sergeant,“ I said. We roamed America in an RV (a 14-metre bus) which I bought on the cheap from an elderly couple whose retirement was truncated by the husband’s terminal illness. She knew that if she left them, they would go in the trash. “Scare the hell out of ‘em,“ the Spook said as he put his cigarette out on the chest of one of the prisoners. I told the medic what the sergeant of the guard had done while he worked on the prisoner. I pressed the button on the hand mike and said, “She’s miss congeniality.”

***

Soy Sauce was born in Japan and immigrated to Hawaii with his family when he was young. He was trying to be strong. She took it home to drink later. The earliest available record indicates that the US Transcontinental Railroad sold the land to Byron and Stella Chisholm in 1894. I was not opposed to knocking someone‘s teeth out with the butt stock of my machine gun. They told him to go get something to drink and eat a pizza. The driver backs the truck in front of the garage. There is nothing braggadocious in his person, or in how he speaks of his military past. “The bald man in the ad for Dr. Built by the hands of man, every stone had been reverently placed to pay homage and glory to God. He said, “Sarge says to put it back in its grave.”

I thought I was going to puke. I grabbed the radio hand mike and pressed the button. They acted like they believed me. The interior of the RV’s bedroom was set up like a mobile infirmary. His eyes looked out of opposite corners of his eyelids, like a reverse of cross eyed. None of us had ever seen anyone so scared. I stared at the statue of the Virgin. “Don’t try this at home,” I joke. I called it up on the radio, and they told me to go check it out. They reminded me of castaways on a deserted island. If the situation was reversed I knew they would execute me by slowly cutting my head off with a big knife. Outside, I walked over to the statue of the Virgin Mary. They took me into a room with a desk and two chairs. It‘s possible to see a large piece of plywood masking a hole in the wall where my father removed the original fireplace – the plywood decorated by pages torn from a coloring book. The men helped us unload our gear and gave us a tour of the small compound. “And get LOTS of the trash!” I photograph the messes we‘ve been wading through, and I open drawers, cupboards, and closets, photographing what’s inside them. He cried when he read it. Much of it is wanderlust, but there are the pragmatics, too, of preserving my legs and joints. I saw the bottle of water out of the corner of my eye and thought about throwing water on them, but I couldn‘t justify it. She cleaned the entire kitchen, everything except the microwave. I watched the ground to make sure I didn’t step on a body. If gravity wins, if we let go, it will crash down the stairs, taking us along. When it hit the ground, the arm ripped off. Defiant, the father demanded compensation for an alleged missile attack by US forces. “Shut the f–k up,“ I screamed as I threw him to the ground. I watched the silhouette grow the closer it got to me. We used to f–k with him about being Japanese and living in Hawaii, and Pearl Harbor. It was so f–king cold and they were probably at the lowest point in their lives and I didn‘t see how it would help the situation. My father shifts the pickup into gear, and I realize this must be why we keep doing what we do: we could be at any address on any road, and these homes we drive away from-and the stories of those who once lived in them-both are and are not our own. The Spooks came and another medic gave the retarded hajji more medical attention. “How come they‘re dry,“ he shouted. The living room of my home today is a partial replica of that one-those end tables and that couch have followed me into the present. “It’s a f–king body.” I looked back at the torso. Digging mass graves, they would execute an entire town by slitting the inhabitants’ throats or shooting them in the head. It’s a way to establish a sense of place, to find friends and to give back. There we had stood, warmed by the flames, their reflections, like our own, flashing upon wet mud. ***

I sat in the guard tower over the front gate. But the light was too low to register anything other than the beam of my flashlight, clouded by breath. “The crows show up when it rains. Some men read books and magazines to make the time pass. Some chain-smoked cigarettes, inhaling smoke every time they took a breath, going hours without breathing fresh air. I grip it with all my strength. “I always thought the light shining on the rock behind her was a pair of wings,” I said. I wanted desperately to go back to sleep. He sat on the steps of the front porch in a T-shirt and cut-off Levi shorts, with his bare feet planted on the bottom step, our two-storey country home rising behind him, its windows placed like eyes. He was cradled in pain, moaning, rolling back and forth. ***

The deed to my childhood home went back to my grandparents after my parents divorced. Little sentimentality is allowed. I rented a camcorder to document the event. In the center of her chest was a bullet hole, the white pock mark contrasted against the grey, weathered stone. They walked the father and his retarded son to the front gate and released them. Part of me resented him, though I understood he was doing what he believed was best for his family. He drenched the mangled heap with gasoline and lit it with a torch. The scenario seems fitting, if not entirely accurate. My father says Standley might have ordered the home from a Sears catalogue. I ain’t shit’in you.”

They shook their heads in unison and started talking all at once, each man telling his own story of ghosts and supernatural happenings. There was a treadmill and a weight bench and ten thousand pounds of weights. The Hajji that had shit himself laid on the ground. The arm was held on by rotten bits of skin and decomposing muscle. In the best American writing I’ve come upon, the stories register a moral accountability, and a self-awareness that doesn’t necessarily end in righteousness, though, in their telling the stories are always direct and so well observed, so well witnessed, that the least I can do is listen! There’s an abrupt matter-of-factness, a daughter and father measuring the “lives of others in cubic yardage: the washing machine in the garage is one cubic yard, and the projection television anchoring the living room is probably one and a half. I yelled up to the nearest guard tower. 115, sliding heavy into the field. He flies the American flag proudly and voted for Trump. She came twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, limping up to the front gate, always with fresh baked loaves of bread. Without a mask to protect him from the insulation spilling from the walls and filling the air like static on a television, our father worked the excavator with both hands, both feet, pulling at the layers of our home, shaking the floor beneath us, reaching further, not yet telling us to get out. “Hi. My father spoke eloquently when I asked how it felt to tear down what he and my mother had worked so hard all those years to prevent from falling apart: “I could see the old and what we once considered was the new…the layers blended together as time rushed through it once more.”

And I wonder, as I study the remains of the bathroom wall hanging above my television today, if what has become of my childhood home had been written there all along as we bathed, as we brushed our teeth, as all that water rushed from unseen places in the walls and swirled down drains behind the figures whose faces Tyrah and I pretended were ours, and we just didn’t know how to read it yet. “Story goes… the Albanians lined everyone up on the wall one Sunday, men, women and children. Freddie smells of scotch, likes to gamble. Given the advent of online home schooling, it wasn’t difficult to circumvent so-called normalcy and the anchor of place. We don’t care about Kosovo, the people or this f–king church. “This is where I saw the thing.”

“What thing?”

“I don’t know. They wanted us to break these men. But all I’m certain of is that foreclosure is damned laborious. We kept in touch over the years. “That’s that,” he says. Neatly tucked into one corner of the tent was a white plastic picnic table, a refrigerator filled with soda, a freezer filled with frozen pizzas, and a microwave that had never been cleaned. They told him when he calmed down they would put him in a different tower. I was then training for the 2010 World Championships. I think that was why she brought the bread. I studied that figure closely as I tried to peel her off the wall. I’ll come upon them encamped on outcrop vistas, ever vigilant. Who am I without it? She recorded the coordinates of her “tin can,“ as she called the mobile home, in the same journal where she recorded the serial numbers of her pistols and rifles and the births and deaths of her animals. When I got close, I threw a rock and the crows scattered. Headstones were strewed about. They cut the zip ties off both the hajjis and took the sandbags off their heads. There were just a few of them, high ranking members of a secret US Government alphabet agency. What Steve produced in my time with him, and what appear here in the selected stories published by The Irish Times, are instances of compassionate insight that were forged in the firmament of battle, where a young man, wrest from a winter’s bone existence in the dead-end of the Midwest, assumed the valorous role of soldier in his deployment into the atrocities of Kosovo and then the mire of Afghanistan. I saw him throw a zip tied hajji out the back of a speeding Humvee. She was outside the chow tent empting a bucket of water. The water erodes the graves. Sometimes old bones or a body gets washed out. There was no small talk. According to a penciled note on one of the home’s original boards, and from what I’ve been able to learn, dizzying myself reading microfiche, the home must have been built by Standley in 1912 – back when homes didn’t have foundations, when insulation was made of newspaper scraps, if there was any insulation at all. Rib bones were visible through holes in the flesh. Soy Sauce threw up. If only the loss of home really could be measured this way, I think – in washing machines and televisions. I do it less now, with four adolescent children, but this transience defined our life for a time. Some take with them as much as they can; I’ve photographed ceilings with wires hanging down like frayed nerves from holes where light fixtures were, and walls with gouges the size of a man’s chest where bathtubs once concealed a network of pipes. I ease down another step, fearing how this all might end-the television slipping, its screen fracturing, mechanisms of projection spilling across the floor. I lied and told him I just smoked my last one. I defiantly met his stare, then looked away. A cigarette dangled from one hand as he gestured with the other, trying to explain what had happened. We measure the amount in cubic yardage: the washing machine in the garage is one cubic yard, and the projection television anchoring the living room is probably one and a half. Thirty feet inside the perimeter, facing the trees, is a daisy chain of claymore mines waiting to welcome anyone that makes it through the razor wire. The quarter-section of land where it stood can be traced in title transfers back to the 1800s, to the popularity of manifest destiny, to the roots of home ownership as a coveted characteristic of the American Dream. I look at the picture, then at her. After the rape, soldiers would stomp on the girl’s stomach, and pelvis, crushing their pubic bone and hips, preventing them from ever having children and causing them to walk with a limp for the rest of their life. I felt like shit. Insulation is exposed where other sections of wall have yet to be replaced. I’ll not take from the stories which The Irish Times has so generously agreed to publish, but to say that the voices which find their way into my own work are informed by a realism and backdrop of the characters I’ve met throughout my American travels. ***

The debris from the demolition didn’t fit into the hole my cousin had dug the day before for its burial. F–k you.”

It was the middle of the night. “F–k you, you don’t believe me. Soy Sauce walked down the hill carrying a shovel. “I shot her with my M4, swear to God.”

“After he shot her, she ran back and climbed on her stone base.”

“We’re not f–king with you. Many are ex-military, taciturn and equipped for solitary survival with their rucksacks and bibles. He was standing in it, and he was crying. I lit a cigarette and walked down the hill toward the birds. It said I was not allowed to talk to anyone or write anything about what I had seen, or the name and location of the firebase, or the names of any person or Government affiliation involved. She saw a new face on this gate every four weeks. They both had sandbags over their heads. My family enters the scene in 1928 – specifically, my grandfather’s second cousin, Lily (Dunning) Pope, and her husband, Gil Pope. Two days ago, when we unloaded furniture at The Salvation Army, the delivery driver said he’d pick up the television but that his insurance “doesn’t cover stairs.” So for two days, we have pretended the television wasn’t here. “You don’t know how glad we are to see you,” the soldier guarding the gate said. They were completely naked. I looked at the two men that stood in front of me shivering from fear and from the cold. “Let them stay at the Hilton,” they say, seemingly oblivious to the personal hardships of those whose homes they’ve repossessed. Tyrah and I cozy up to her as our father rests the camcorder on the coffee table and enters the portrait he’s staged. My mother had called at 3:00 a.m., sleepless, asking us to save a door for her – with the hinges. We met the couple along the Oregon coast in the misery of a windswept winter storm, along miles of Pacific beach. “It feels like an earthquake.”

I zoomed in and out on the scene, imagining the footage as a continuation of the scene my parents had filmed, the cinematic equivalent of double exposure-two disparate scenes framed as one by a fluke of light. He was the first person in our platoon to see a ghost. He refused to get back in the guard tower. ***

SJ Dunning as a child

Memories of my own childhood home, of my once-whole family, are framed by a flashing television screen. He refused to be alone. “I guess you can’t lift a whole home up and expect things not shift when it’s set back down,” my father said. We kicked in the doors, went into the compounds, captured the militants. All that remained of what it once stood for was a tall steeple reaching heavenward. Regret makes the heart ache. The more dangerous church was The Zatenge Church. ***

The Salvation Army truck arrives as my father and I roll the giant television down the sidewalk. This business of foreclosure has become a business for closure. They gave the hajjis several hundred dollars apiece to help smooth things over. Onto how many of foreclosure’s forgotten television screens must I project my own memories of loss, before I am able to stop the loop, push eject? The Popes owned the home and raised sheep on the surrounding acreage for the following forty-five years – until Gil died of cancer. His dick was bleeding. My parents hand off the camcorder again and my father films my mother as she slides tiny earring-backs onto earrings he bought her, diamonds surrounded by deep red gems. He asked me if I had a cigarette. Break their spirit and their will to live. We took every door. Haji screamed at the top of his lungs during the attack. They made me write my name, and my social security number on the piece paper, and they wanted my parent‘s home address in case they ever needed to find me. Christian Serbians living in Kosovo, with help from the Serbian government, attacked Muslim Albanians also living in Kosovo. He moaned and cried out in pain as the medic examined him. He wasn‘t shaking. ***

The corners of the television pinch my palms. She was young then, still finding her voice, and though our encounter was brief – a transient series of classes offered at the University of Western Washington, and some mentoring over drinks at shabby bars – I understood she was in search of the sort of story that eventually arrives if one is patiently attentive and willing to endure long suffering. When discussions of foreclosure arise, Fannie and Freddie are nonchalant. We had to yell over the noise of the birds. He nods hello to us as he walks to open the trailer, his jeans baggy, cuffs frayed from dragging upon the ground. I asked, “Is this your family?”

I knew she wanted me to take their picture. In each episode, the couple hosts a party for Wall Street bigwigs “in their ballroom the size of this split-level,” I tell my father. No one ever gave her money for the bread. I had done it in the past, but these men were tied up and helpless. The medic gave him a shot of something to help the pain. … then the entry way from the front door … the living room … every room … from different angles.”

He demonstrates, and I follow him, snapping the photographs in stride. He was very superstitious. The only time the church is used is when someone dies. By a haphazard method involving a nearly empty five-gallon bucket of paint and a block of wood – items we forgot to haul to the dump – and our own sheer will, we manage to get the television down the stairs. Others did pushups or masturbated. He was a high-school graduate and army veteran. Eyes bloodshot and clothes smelling like smoke, we climbed out of our cells, and tired we stumbled toward the chow tent or towards our cots. “Commercial breaks are for home loans…” my father adds. You are at once commiserates on the same journey, mutually paused along the way station toward some indistinct endpoint. When my father hands her the camcorder, she films Tyrah holding up a boxed Barbie’s Dream House, its cross-section glossy, its walls colorful, every room filled with furniture. ***

The Spooks came over and started asking me questions. Steve Carlsen, prototypical warrior, career-hardened soldier, would see and endure the loss of three comrades, and yet back home, in the aftermath of his service, he used to drink and have nightmares about that little girl. I climbed out of the guard tower and walked over to the gate. I got the film developed in Vitina a few days later. A woman in her mid-twenties greets me in Serbian. They were cawing and making a ruckus, tearing at pieces of flesh and fighting over what was on the ground. I walked over to the gate. Nor is he incendiary in his politics, save that he believes each man should provide for his own, that a sense of independence is lost in a welfare state of big government. That place is gone. I could tell by his actions that he was either young or not as hardened as his partner in crime. The truck is a hefty white steed branded with a large red badge I initially see as a heart. If only there was a message of condolence that could do that loss justice, and a fleet of baggy-jeaned angels who could haul it away on a big white steed branded with a heart. Time passed. Perhaps it is why I chose to share these two writers with an Irish audience – for the moral agency and immediacy of what each conveys, how each situates their stories within a stark, unsettling realism. The Hajji that had shit himself was obviously retarded. ***

Once we’ve taken the “after” photographs, secured the split-level, and loaded our equipment beneath the canopy, we climb into my father’s pickup, and he types the address of the Motel 6 near tomorrow‘s foreclosure into his GPS with an un-clicked pen. Once the television is inside, my father releases his grip. It was two in the morning and freezing cold. This was a man’s environment, harsh and dirty – the only women that could thrive here were the ones on our walls. It reminded me of a spy movie. All of us stared blankly out the windows of the guard tower for hours. It is impossible for us to wrap our minds around. I positioned them where the old church and the barbed wire wouldn’t be in the picture. Surrounding the church on three sides is the cemetery. It wasn’t long before my cousin and his wife and two young children moved into a new home they’d had built not twenty feet behind the old house, which still stood there like a grand addition missing only a connective hallway. They were crammed with cots lining the walls. As a family, we’ve ventured to remote locations along coastal waters, then turned inland for the mountainous Northwestern, ventured further west, down along the Rockies. By signing my name, I would be agreeing that none of this happened and if I talked I would go to prison. Government Spooks. She saw the camera in my hand, put the bucket down, stood up straight and looked at me without smiling. In the photograph my father took of Tyrah and me later that evening, we stand four feet apart, facing each other. This church, this empty house of worship was built as a sanctuary where God and man came together. “Everyone gather around Mommy,” my father says. “Power service disconnect,” my father says. “Fuck you for making me pick up a body like its dog shit.”

***

Lost in thought, I watched the rain through the windows of the guard tower. Three of them swore that they saw the statue of Mary walking around after dark. Each has a story to tell, each as tragic as the next. Not unlike the pages of the newspaper my father nightly crumpled, whatever we didn’t one day cut out of this home was destined to be reduced to ash. The spook handed me a piece of paper. In so observing them, my wife and I took measure of our own strength, our own endurance and what matters – family. She cleaned our bathroom and showers, taking any bars of soap that were left behind. Does this behavior suggest a 19th-century prelude to 21st-century predatory lending as I’ve interpreted it? She smiled. Upon notice of eviction, men and women wander through bedrooms, and living rooms, and kitchens, hurriedly packing up what they can of their belongings. ***

All churches, schools, and mosques in Kosovo had to be guarded twenty-four hours a day. SJ Dunning on the road

For(e)closure By SJ Dunning

I want to say I am an expert on foreclosure – I feel an onus to provide a sturdy framework for what follows, to be more well-read on the subject than most – but even reviewing titles of books chronicling the mortgage crisis and foreclosure proves painstaking. “There are ghosts here, this place is haunted. We left the church. “No one told me to.“

He started to get pissed because the prisoners were dry. We laughed at him. Their faces looked tired and disheveled. We decide a family of four or more lived in the split-level, and they took only what could be hauled in armloads – the suitcases are gone, but we find clothes hanging to dry from the shower rod, a couch, bookshelves lined with books and photo albums, children’s drawings taped to the fridge, the shelves inside the freezer filled with moldy TV dinners. I heard footsteps behind me and turned and saw the sergeant of the guard walking up. It’s probably frowned upon to keep things for ourselves, but I’ll stuff a letter a mother wrote to her daughter into my pocket, anyway, and a child’s drawing of a bird, imagining my creation of a website called Foreclosure’s Lost & Found. I never saw a retarded hajji with a sandbag over his head, his hands tied behind his back, lying on the ground bleeding from his dick.