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Required Reading: Death of a Racehorse by WC Heinz

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by jgmacg, Jun 14, 2006.

  1. 93Devil

    93Devil Well-Known Member

    I have not written anything of length without the aid of a computer in a long, long time.

    To flow these words and thoughts like he did without a cut and paste function or the other tools we now have that he did not makes this all the more impressive to me.
  2. SamMonson

    SamMonson New Member

    I've been looking for another of Heinz's required reading pieces - 'Brownsville Bum', but i've been unable to turn it up anywhere online, and my copy of his anthology has only just been purchased on Amazon! Can anybody turn up a copy online somewhere?
  3. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    Sam -

    I'm not sure if 'Bum' is available anywhere online. I've never seen it. So hold on. Be patient. Your anthology will arrive shortly. And worth the wait.
  4. SamMonson

    SamMonson New Member

    I'll look forward to it. :)

  5. Just read the amazing NYTMag excerpt of Dexter Filkins' new book on his time covering the Iraq war (
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/24/magazine/24filkins-t.html?ref=magazine). And...the best part reminded me of Death of a Racehorse. Especially in the deliberate repetition of the phrase the writer knew he wanted to end with. The pacing, too.

    Does anyone else see it?

    The first marine was stuck, maybe three-quarters of the way up the stairway. The shot had come from farther up the stairs. A very loud shot. Then tumbling and screaming and quiet. The guy who had fired was in the minaret, at the top of the stairs, sitting up there.

    “Miller!” the marines shouted.


    No answer.

    I tried to imagine him up there, Miller, foot stuck in the stairwell in some odd way that prevented him from falling like the rest of us. Unable, for some reason, to speak.

    Ashley was sitting on the stoop beside the entrance to the minaret mumbling to himself. His back was turned to the tower, and his helmet was on crooked so he looked especially vulnerable. His shoulders were heaving. My fault, he was saying, my fault. There was blood and bits of white flesh on his face and on his flak jacket and on his camera lens. My fault.

    “Miller!” The marines were screaming now.

    They started to run into the tower. It was crazy, but they ran into the tower, heedless and headlong, the way you would charge a machine-gun nest. Young and determined, up the winding stairs. They ran up the stairs, and there were more shots, I couldn’t tell whose; there was fighting and yelling. Then the marines came out empty-handed. Alive but empty-handed and shouting.

    “I can’t get to him,” one of the marines said, emerging from the tower. It was Michael Goggin, an Irish kid from Weymouth, Mass., 19, with a heavy accent. His face was covered in dust. Like the dust in the photo, looking like a ghost.

    Again and again they went up, Goggin and the others, and there were more shots and more dust and more yelling. I wondered how many people were going to die to save Miller, who was shot for a picture. I worked out the numbers: the Marines don’t leave their own behind, and neither do the insurgents. Miller is trapped, and the insurgent is up here, in a perfect spot, with perfect lines of fire. You could see the marines, too; it was in their eyes. Obsessed and burning. Maybe the whole platoon would die, I thought.




    Our leader that day was Sgt. Sam Williams, a 24-year-old from northern Michigan. Sam pointed to the top of the tower and told his men to fire. And so they did, guns singing, grenade launchers, machine guns, boom-boom-boom-boom. Horrendous and loud.

    What if Miller is still alive? I thought. There was so much firing and so much stuff flying, bricks, shrapnel, bullets. Two marines were wounded. One of them was Lance Cpl. Demarkus Brown, a kid from Martinsville, Va., 22. The marines were raking the minaret, Demarkus was, too, and then he dropped his rifle and grabbed his right cheek. “I’m hit - I’m hit!” he said, panic in his eyes, real panic as if he was going to die. But the wound was small, and Demarkus was so young, he seemed like one of those kids on the playground who gets hurt every time. He seemed so frightened. He was killed a week later.

    The firing stopped. Smoking rifles. Two more marines went up, and the minaret began to come apart. Bricks falling, dust and rocks, the tower swaying. Gunfire started to come into the mosque from the houses nearby. The insurgents had found us.

    Ashley was still seated on the stoop, helmet crooked, mumbling to himself like a child. My fault.

    Miller was out. Two marines had pulled him from the tower, Goggin one of them, choking and coughing. Black lung, they called it later. Miller was on his back; he had come out head first. His face was opened in a large V, split like meat, fish maybe, with the two sides jiggling.

    “Please tell me he’s not dead,” Ash said. “Please tell me.”

    “He’s dead, Ash,” I said.

    I felt it then. Darting, out of reach. You go into these places, and you think they’re overrated, they are not nearly as dangerous as people say. Keep your head; keep the gunfire in front of you. You get close and come out unscathed every time, your face as youthful and as untroubled as before. The life of the reporter: always someone else’s pain. A woman in an Iraqi hospital cradles her son newly blinded, and a single tear rolls down her cheek. The cheek is so dry, and the tear moves so slowly that you focus on it for a while, the tear traveling across the wide desert plain. You need a corpse for the newspaper, so you take a bunch of marines to get one. Then suddenly it’s there, the warm liquid on your face, the death you have always avoided, smiling back at you as if it knew all along. Your fault.
  6. Honesty Kills

    Honesty Kills New Member

    This sounds like the suggestion of somebody that used to sit with cal at CJ Thorne's, or the Coast Grill... and definitely somebody that's spent time out on the island at Bobby Van's.

    Heinz is one of the greats.
  7. Hilarious thing of the week: I just came back to this thread and read the "Filkins' Iraq story reminds me of DOARacehorse" post and thought, "Wow, I've read that Filkins story, and I didn't notice that...but so true, look at that, how reminiscent of Heinz..."

    Of course, the Filkins post was by ME. Five months ago.
  8. mrbio

    mrbio Member

    Excellent, thank you for posting. Simple and beautiful.
  9. mikecoppinger

    mikecoppinger New Member

    Just order the book on Amazon, thank you for sharing and for the recommendation.
  10. aussiejourno

    aussiejourno New Member

    And to think this little old hack in Australia hadn't read that story before...it's truly beautiful.
  11. Twirling Time

    Twirling Time Well-Known Member

    I didn't read it because I know the end of the story. :D
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