BOY SINGING TO CATTLE
By Mark D. Hart
These days, Mark Hart is comfortably settled in Amherst, where he has a psychotherapy practice, teaches meditation, serves as an adviser to Buddhist students at Amherst College — and writes poetry. But Hart grew up nearly 3,000 miles away, in the wheat-growing region of southeastern Washington state known as the Palouse, and the poems in this collection are mostly an ode to that landscape and the people of his past.
One dominating personality is his father, a toughened wheat farmer and World War II vet who, like many men in that farming community, was a hard drinker. In “The Grave of My Father,” Hart ticks off what he wants to give his dad for the afterlife: a deck of cards, some whiskey, baling wire and duct tape, a wife to help him look after himself and “someone not your wife to flirt with.”
“You are a simple man,” Hart writes. “You do not need jewels or robe. ... With these few things / I know you will be comfortable / and not too lost or at loose ends / in the fields of the beyond.”
Hart also writes of his boyhood struggle to come to terms with this rugged sensibility and not fitting in. The narrator of “Pissing Under Pressure” recalls being “unathletic, quick to tears, / girled on the schoolyard, teased / for a temper I could not contain” — a problem that grows “in the very place / where a father’s red face at his awkward son / and the bruises and welts of words can be found ...”
But “Boy Singing to Cattle” is also a celebration of the agricultural bounty of the Palouse and the quiet and peace of its undulating hills. It is, as one reviewer puts it, “at once a moving elegy for a lost parent, a portrait of a way of life, and of the landscape and community tied to it, and a reconciliation with that past.”
Mark Hart will read from his collection Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Pruyne Lecture Hall at Amherst College.
THE MORPHINE DREAM
By Donald L. Brown/with Gary S. Chafetz
Bettie Youngs Books
“The Morphine Dream” is an improbable but inspiring memoir and an account of an epic cross-country walk — though the two are inextricably linked.
Amherst College graduate Donald Brown, who grew up in the suburbs of Boston in the 1950s and early 1960s, was 13 years old when his father committed suicide. As a teenager, he was also a talented athlete, but by 17 he’d quit high school to join the Marines, where an injury led to additional medical problems that would end his days as a baseball and football player. He went on to work in a succession of jobs, including in a factory, where one of his knees was crushed in an industrial accident.
At 36, with few prospects, and told he’d be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, Brown had a morphine-induced dream in the hospital that convinced him he’d not only walk again but would do so across the country — and that he’d graduate from Harvard Law School. “I was sky-high,” Brown writes of that day. “I was flying.”
Doctors scoffed at what he said, but his memoir, edited by veteran journalist Gary Chavetz, lays out just how it all came to pass — how he enrolled and excelled at Mount Wachusett Community College, transferred to Amherst (where he was a driver for then-college president Peter Pouncey), and then entered Harvard Law School, taking classes with a younger student named Barack Obama. At Harvard, Brown would write a paper on race relations that imagined Obama going on to become president.
And, to complete his dream, Brown, after a number of surgeries on his knee, set out from Copley Square in Boston on July 4, 1997, on the first leg of a 144-day walk across the country and a visit along the way with people and places of his past.
Now retired from careers in law, teaching and medical practice management consulting, Brown, who lives in Revere, says he intends to write additional books and that when he “leave[s] this earth, I will have a smile on my face.”