Learning Burn


Learning Burn

They carried a burning to learn and to educate.
They carried inadequate health insurance.
They carried the assumption their health insurance was adequate.
They carried exorbitant medical bills
For surgeries
Or pregnancies
Or emergencies
Or urgencies
Or totally irrelevant hypochondriac non-emergencies.
They carried new shoes and a new haircut.
They carried a library card
And an overdue fee for
Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”.
They paid the fee gleefully
For “The Things They Carried” was worthy
Of reading and rereading.
They carried a burning to learn and to educate.
It came at a price,
The burning,
The learning,
The educating,
The carrying . . .
It came at a price,
And that price was . . .

. . . the things teachers carry . . .




Inspired by:

“The Things Teachers Carried”:







They carried the fruit of the sea.
They barbecued it.
They boiled it.
They broiled it.
They baked it.
They sautéed it.
It came kabobed.
It came creole.
It came gumbo.
They pan fried it.
They deep fried it.
They stir-fried it.
It came flavored.
They made soup.
They made stew.
They made salad.
They made it with potatoes.
They made burgers.
They made sandwiches.
That . . . that’s about it . . .
They could have dipped it in chocolate . . .
. . . dipped in life . . . like . . .
A box of chocolates . . .
. . . but they carried a distaste for chocolate covered




Inspired by:

“The Things They Carried vs Forrest Gump”:




The Haiku They Carried


The Haiku They Carried

(Haiku inspired by The Things They Carried (1990), Tim O’Brien)


The things they carry
Become the things that carry
Them . . . own them . . . rule them . . .


Cross, Bowker, Kiley,
Sanders, Dobbins, Kiowa,
Azar, O’Brien . . .


How’s the war today?
Mellow . . . the war is nice and
Lavender mellow . . .


Screwed to a post for
God sake . . . go ahead . . . try me . . .
Ah . . . well . . . nevermind . . .


You believe this? Truth?
Maybe a bit more evil?
Maybe a bit less?



Notes and Quotes – The Things They Carried (1990), Tim O’Brien


– Notes and Quotes –


Tim O’Brien (1946-present)

The Things They Carried (1990)


“The Things They Carried”


“Love” and “Spin”


“On the Rainy River”


“How to Tell a True War Story”


“Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”


“The Man I Killed” and “Ambush”


“Speaking of Courage” and “Notes”


“In the Field”, “Good Form”, and “Field Trip”


“The Ghost Soldiers”, “Night Life”, and “The Lives of the Dead”


 Reflections…The Things They Carried


Foot and Thumb


Sequence: The Flashbacks They Recalled/Carried


Synthesis – The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien


 The Haiku They Carried



A Snap in the Wind


A Snap in the Wind

The sun is shining. Wind blows at eight miles an hour. A green fairway paves a path. A man sleeps beneath a crooked tree. Plastic bags whirl wildly in a twisting breeze. Birds fly, lose control in wind waves, and fly right again.

Slinging rubber with and against wind, discs fly as saucers in a ninja tea party. See ‘em fly! Fly and disappear into high grass like piñata candy. Pitcher at the pad and that arm slings back and snaps forward, fingers snap *SNAP*!

An arm raises a hand to block the bright sun of Sunset Park. When vision clears, a rubber bee is just barely seen forced down by the high winds, hitting the high weeds, and yet a four or five par for the hole for the basket is farther than rushing wind allows.

A voice calls, but words are lost in the rush. A shrug, or thumbs up, or other such pose of body language must suffice as response. A polo shirt and sweatband around the brow like a low-rise halo, the pro imparts a lesson on form in elemental fury. With a wink and a snap, pro becomes rookie as rubber is slung, booming through the sound barrier *BOOM*!



Synthesis – The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien


Synthesis – The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien:

Like many war stories, O’Brien presents a struggle of the human condition. The narrator is drafted into selective service with the military, attempts to dodge the draft, changes his mind, and finds himself in the thick of the war in Vietnam.

Like many people, the narrator was struggling with his life before the draft notice ever arrived. He was working in a slaughterhouse, stank of pig essence, couldn’t get any dates with girls, and he was floundering in the wake of his high school graduation. He didn’t like his position in the world but he didn’t know exactly what to do about it. He obeyed the calling, or fate, or destiny, or whatever it is, if anything, that guides the individual through their life.

Humans may experience physical, mental, social, economic, etc, phases in their lives. “The Things They Carried” details an account of the human condition, of growing up, of growing old, and of how each and every human may experience similar things on different levels and intensities. (text-to-self)

A major feature of O’Brien’s writing style is the way in which the narrator writes about the craft of writing and storytelling. By writing about writing, the narrator includes the reader in on the secret . . . the story to be told.

A connection is made with the reader. The reader may trust the storyteller as an eyewitness, a first-hand account to whatever the tale is about. In the story “Love,” years after returning from the war, Lt. Jimmy Cross visits O’Brien, they have a great conversation, and Cross, as listener to the storyteller, says: “You writer types . . . you’ve got long memories.” (27).

What Cross may not perceive is that the writer puts memory, recollection, and inclination down on the page. The paper or the electronic document make the memory tangible, but otherwise work as a prompt for the person doing the remembering to pull the shapeless memory of the mind into the reality of a well-articulated story. As O’Brien writes in the story “Spin,” “. . . as I write about these things, the remembering is turned into a kind of rehappening.”  (31) and, “That’s the real obsession. All those stories.” (33) (text-to-itself)

While war and war stories may be condemned for their narrator’s recollection and participation in war, there have been many great books written about and/or during war: Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, Heller’s Catch 22, Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, to name a few, but the stories are never really about war. The stories are about surviving war long enough to return to surviving civilian life. From bravery and loyalty to bureaucratic absurdity, the war story is a fixture in any culture.

As Tim O’Brien writes in “How to Tell a True War Story,” “It wasn’t a war story. It was a love story.” (81) “And in the end, of course, a true war story is never about war. It’s about . . . .” (81) The story is about whatever we interpret the meaning to be, and an overarching theme of many war stories is the narrator’s “coming of age,” and the potential for lost innocence. Each narrator must come to terms with their place on the playing field. (text-to-text)

The world as it currently exists is perhaps suffering from the “global economy” expectations of a classist system relying on mass poverty, “third-world” debt, civil wars, ancient tribal rivalries, political and religious dissent, corporate low-price leaders, inadequate health-care coverage, inadequate living and working conditions, and everyone is expected to live contentedly on their level of the social/moral food chain.

“The Things They Carried” is but a single recount of a single individual portraying a shred of his own perception and participation in history. Imagine if everyone wrote their own shred of history and the magnificence of the quilt that could be woven from the stories, those recounted fabric threads of people’s lives.

Until a utopian society is attained, the world may be destined to live in conflict, war, and dystopia. Barbarism becomes more civil, civility becomes more barbaric, and somewhere in between the contemporary human species survives. (text-to-world)





Across the Avenue…or…Industry and the Old West


Across the Avenue or Industry and the Old West

A place, a single-story house, a cement yard, a cement sidewalk, a cement gutter, the rubber heels of two Italian leather Chelseas cozied into the right angle of the gutter’s dryness, but the vision across the asphalt avenue, a hacienda, is now seen for the first time from this side of perception.

The sounds of a hotrod tinkerer building another Model-T replica grind along like the machine shop music of an industrial wonderland.
The question was, “What’s he building in there?” and binoculars answered that question, but the grinding, the building, it continues, rain or shine, freeze or fry.

There, in the gutter, with the vision of a hacienda, notes are taken of a black metal gateway and a dirt yard. The black gateway is supposed to be good Feng Shui for the superstitious.
There overgrows a spiny palm, lush with broadly fanning leaves and limbs, for water leaks from a sprinkling system that otherwise never sprays.

The hacienda is home, but the view is from across the ave. Industry and the old west avoid conflict by way of the asphalt avenue and the occasional passerby. With a simple shuffle, the interior becomes exterior, and the view askew.





Factory Run 3 (2-27-2012): 7 Works


Factory Run 3
Freely associated spoken words:
Fruit, Insect, Bird, Resource, Habitat, Wildlife


• Participants
• Freely Associated Words
• Haiku/Poem
• Syllable Count


Choose a haiku/poem and provide a creative analysis/interpretation by first using the mouse to “Copy” the work, then “Click” the “Reply” link immediately following this post, and “Paste” the work into the Reply/Comment box.



7 Works:

Participants: Juliet, Rayma, Jamie
Freely associated words:
Bug crawls on apple
Robin sings quick golden tunes
Our environment
Syllable count: (5, 7, 5) (17)

Participants: Rayma, Jamie, Erik
Freely associated words:
No water for desert
Coyote eats cricket
Bluejay sits on apple
Syllable count: (6, 6, 6) (18)

Participants: Jamie, Erik, Mark
Freely associated words:
Tasty strawberries
Deer and robin in a cave
Bee is over water
Syllable count: (5, 7, 6) (18)

Participants: Erik, Mark, Clayton
Freely associated words:
Eats kumquat in the jungle
Water kills the flea
Syllable count: (5, 7, 5) (17)

Participants: Mark, Clayton, Kelly
Freely associated words:
Bug salad with water in a
Cave with deer and feather
Syllable count: (8, 6) (14)

Participants: Clayton, Kelly, Juliet
Freely associated words:
Orange grasshopper on
Trees dove over aquarium
Deer on top
Syllable count: (5, 8, 3) (16)

Participants: Kelly, Juliet, Rayma
Freely associated words:
Bug flying home
After eating pineapple
Use diverse energy
Syllable count: (4, 7, 6) (17)


Choose a haiku/poem and provide a creative analysis/interpretation by first using the mouse to “Copy” the work, then “Click” the “Reply” link immediately following this post, and “Paste” the work into the Reply/Comment box.



Notes and Quotes – “The Ghost Soldiers”, “Night Life”, and “The Lives of the Dead”, Tim O’Brien


Notes – “The Ghost Soldiers”, “Night Life”, and “The Lives of the Dead”:

“The Ghost Soldiers” is a tale of revenge that becomes softened by rationale. The narrator contracts a case of “diaper rash” from enemy fire, and he nearly dies from shock as the inexperienced medic, Bobby Jorgenson, becomes too stunned to move in the crossfire. The narrator survives, holds a grudge, teems for revenge, but dares not go too far, or risk suffering his own scruples. The narrator and the medic come to an understanding, and water again passes under the bridge. The story “Night Life” explains why Rat Kiley wasn’t the company medic when the narrator was shot for the second time. After one too many nights working the graveyard shift, Rat cracks up and takes himself out of the war. In “The Lives of the Dead”, the narrator makes final reflections of those he once knew. He was no stranger to loss and grief before the war as he makes known that his childhood love died of cancer before the age of ten. Death becomes a parallel for lost literature . . . books nobody reads . . . stories nobody listens to . . . the moral.


Quotes – “The Ghost Soldiers”:

“I was shot twice. The first time, out by Tri Binh . . .” (180)

“It was almost dark when the fighting ended and the chopper came to take me and two dead guys away.” (181)

“. . . I got shot the second time, in the butt, along the Song Tra Bong . . .” . . . . “. . . [Bobby Jorgenson] bungled the patch job, and a couple of weeks later my ass started to rot away.” (181)

Small pride of getting shot, “Diaper rash, the nurses called it.”(182)

“. . . Bobby Jorgenson had almost killed me. Shock, I’d think – how could he forget to treat for shock?” (183)

“They were still my buddies, at least on one level, but once you leave the boonies, the whole comrade business gets turned around. You become a civilian. You forfeit membership in the family, the blood fraternity, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t pretend to be part of it.” (185)

Cynically: “‘Where’s my good buddy Bobby [Jorgenson]?’” (186)

“‘Well, hey,’ Bowker said, ‘I’m just saying what Jorgenson says. Maybe fuckin’ polio. Or that weird elephant disease. Elephantiass-hole or whatever.’” (187)

Bullet wound jokes: “There was one about rear guard duty. There was another one about hemorrhoids and how I had trouble putting the past behind me.” (188)

“‘Sanders shrugged. ‘People change. Situations change. I hate to say this, man, but you’re out of touch. Jorgenson – he’s with us now.’” (188)

“I didn’t fit anymore. They were soldiers, I wasn’t.” (188)

“. . . for some reason what stuck to my memory was the smooth unblemished leather of his fine new boots. Factory black, no scuffs or dust or red clay. The boots were one of those vivid details you can’t forget. Like a pebble or a blade of grass, you just stare and think, Dear Christ, there’s the last thing on earth I’ll ever see.” (189)

“I hated [Jorgenson] for making me stop hating him.” (190)

“I’d turned mean inside.” (190)

Shock, I thought, and I tried to tell [Jorgenson] that, but my tongue wouldn’t make the

connection” (191)

“We called the enemy ghosts.” . . . . “To get spooked, in the lingo, meant not only to get scared but to get killed.” (192)

“. . . at night you turned into a believer: no skeptics in foxholes.” (193)

“‘What’s real?’ [Azar] said. ‘Eight months in fantasyland, it tends to blur the line. Honest to God, I sometimes can’t remember what real is.’” (193)

“. . . the darkness squeezes you inside yourself, you get cut off from the outside world, the imagination takes over. That’s basic psychology.” (195)

“Ghosts rising from the dead.” (195)

“Waiting was the trick.” (196)

Barbarella: Azar: “Sweet Janie boosts a man’s morale.” . . . . “It was an old joke. Everything was old. The movie, the heat, the booze, the war.” (196)

Barbarella (1968) Trailer (YouTube)

“. . . all those heroes, and you can’t help falling back on them as models of proper comportment.” (197)

“Like a puppeteer. Yank on the ropes, watch the silly wooden soldier jump and twitch.” (198)

“I was Nam – the horror, the war.” (199)

“Shut up and listen.” (199)

 “We sat in the dim light of my hootch, boots off, listening to Mary Hopkin on my tape deck.” (199)

Mary HopkinThose Were the Days (YouTube)

“That’s another thing Nam does to you. It turns you sentimental . . .” (199)

“I told [Azar] the score was even.” (201)

Azar: “‘Out here, at night, I almost feel like a kid again. The Vietnam experience. I mean, wow, I love this shit.’” (202)

Azar: “‘Brings back memories, I bet – those happy soldiering days. Except now you’re a has-been.’” (202)

“I told him I was sorry; he told me the same thing. Afterward, in an awkward moment, I said, ‘Let’s kill Azar.’” (207)


Quotes –”Night Life”:

“Apparently [Rat Kiley] lost his cool.” (208)

“. . . the phrase everyone used: the night life. A language trick. It made things seem tolerable. How’s the Nam treating you? . . . . Hey, one big party, just living the night life.” (208)

“You’d shake your head and blink, except you couldn’t even tell you were blinking, the blackness didn’t change.” (209)

“Rat developed some peculiar habits.” (210)

“One of these nights I’ll be lying dead out there in the dark and nobody’ll find me except the bugs – I can see it – I can see the goddamn bugs chewing tunnels through me – I can see the mongooses munching on my bones.” (212)

“He said he’d done his best. He’d tried to be a decent medic. Win some and lose some, he said, but he’d tried hard.” . . . . “and how crazy it was that people who were so incredibly alive could get so incredibly dead.” . . . . “‘This whole war,’ he said. ‘You know what it is? Just one big banquet. Meat, man. You and me. Everybody. Meat for the bugs.’ The next morning he shot himself. He took off his boots and socks, laid out his medical kit, doped himself up, and put a round through his foot.”(212)


Quotes –”The Lives of the Dead”:

“They’re all dead. But in a story, which is a kind of dreaming, the dead sometimes smile and sit up and return to the world.” (213)

“. . . that awesome act of greeting the dead.” (2214)

Sanders: “‘Vitamin C,’ he said gently. ‘A guy’s health, that’s the most important thing.’” (215)

“There was a formality to it, like a funeral without the sadness.” (215)

“[Kiowa] offered me a Christmas cookie from a batch his father had sent him. It was February now, but the cookies tasted fine.” (215)

“The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it,” (218)

“‘How’s the war today?’ somebody would ask, and Ted Lavender would give a little smile to the sky and say, ‘Mellow – a nice smooth war today.’” (218)

“We put his personal effects in a plastic bag and tied the bag to his arm.” (218)

“The movie that night was The Man Who Never Was.” (220)

“We were in love. Nine years old, yes, but it was real love . . .” (221)

Linda’s cap: “So I stood off to the side, just a spectator, wishing I could do things I couldn’t do.” (221)

“[Nick Veenhof] took hold of the white tassel, stood up, and gently lifted off her cap.” (222)

“. . . I can still see the glossy whiteness of her scalp. She wasn’t bald. Not quite. Not completely. There were some tufts of hair, little patches of grayish brown fuzz.” (222)

“She died, of course. Nine years old and she died. It was a brain tumor.” (223-4)

“But in a story I can steal her soul. I can revive, at least briefly, that which is absolute and unchanging.” (224)

“‘Well, God,’ I said, ‘you’re dead.’” (225)

 “I learned that words make a difference. It’s easier to cope with a kicked bucket than a corpse; if it isn’t human, it doesn’t matter much if it’s dead.” (226)

“‘Death sucks,’ [Sanders] said.” (230)

“‘Do I look dead?’” . . . . “‘Well, right now,’ she said, ‘I’m not dead. But when I am, it’s like … I don’t know, I guess it’s like being inside a book that nobody’s reading.’” (231)



Notes and Quotes – “In the Field”, “Good Form”, and “Field Trip”, Tim O’Brien


Notes – “In the Field”, “Good Form”, and “Field Trip”: 

“In the Field” sheds new light on the phrase “in the shit.” The shining beam of a soldier’s flashlight pointed at a picture of the soldier’s girlfriend is enough of a beacon to draw a rain of mortar fire on the shitfield of ancient human excrement. In “Good Form”, the narrator again establishes the tone of author, and expresses the need to make the reader really feel what he’s been through. He explains the act of writing as a way to relive experiences and reevaluate perceptions.

In “Field Trip”, the narrator is illustrated as desirous of closure twenty years after the incident in the shitfield. He returns to Vietnam, now a writer and a father, with his daughter who cannot understand what the narrator’s motives are for making the trip. As the narrator explains the moral, that nobody listens, throughout the writing, and you had to be there to understand.


Quotes – “In the Field”:

“[Lt. Cross] preferred to view his men not as units but as human beings. And Kiowa had been a splendid human being, the very best, intelligent and gentle and quiet-spoken. Very brave, too. And decent.” (157)

“After a second he hauled up a scummy green rucksack.” . . . . “The pack was heavy with mud and water, dead-looking. Inside were a pair of moccasins and an illustrated New Testament.” (159)

“. . . Kiowa had been combined with the waste and the war.” (162)

“Like murder, the boy thought. The flashlight made it happen. Dumb and dangerous. And as a result his friend Kiowa was dead.” (163)

“‘Billie’s picture. I had it all wrapped up, I had it in plastic, so it’ll be okay if I can … Last night we were looking at it, me and Kiowa.’” (165)

“‘Well,’ Henry Dobbins said, ‘it could be worse,’ and Dave Jensen said, ‘How, man? Tell me how.’” (167)

“They felt bad for Kiowa. But they also felt a kind of giddiness, a secret joy, because they were alive, and because even the rain was preferable to being sucked under a shit field, and because it was all a matter of luck and happenstance.” (168)

“‘Nobody’s fault,’ he said. ‘Everybody’s.’” (168)

“The boy wanted to confess.” . . . . “The flashlight had done it. Like a target shining in the dark.” (169)

“When a man died, there had to be blame.” (169)

“In the field, though, the causes were immediate.” (170)


Quotes – “Good Form”:

“Right here, now, as I invent myself, I’m thinking of all I want to tell you about why this book is written as it is.” (171)

“I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.” (171)

“. . . twenty years later, I’m left with faceless responsibility and faceless grief.” (172)

“What stories can do, I guess, is make things present.

I can look at things I never looked at. I can attach faces to grief . . .” (172)


Quotes – “Field Trip”:

“‘I think this place stinks. It smells like … God, I don’t even know what. It smells rotten’” (174)

“‘Sometimes you’re pretty weird, aren’t you?’ . . . . ‘Some dumb thing happens a long time ago and you can’t ever forget it.’ . . . . ‘That’s weird.’” (175)

“She watched me unwrap the cloth bundle. Inside were Kiowa’s old moccasins.” (177)

“Leaning forward, I reached in with the moccasins and wedged them into the soft bottom, letting them slide away. Tiny bubbles broke along the surface.” (178)

“. . . I wondered if the old man might walk over to exchange a few war stories, but instead he picked up a shovel and raised it over his head and held it there for a time, grimly, like a flag . . .” (179)