Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Old Man

"Where are you going at this time of night, mi cariño," asked the old mans wife. 

"I’ve got one last delivery for the day. I must ride into the city. I’m going to the house my friend, Gustavo. I’ll be late coming home to you, mi amor, but I’ll come home to you," answered the old man. 
He pedaled down the main highway from San Antonio de Baño toward Havana. The night breeze felt good on his face. His calves and arms loosened with each kilometer he passed. His heart beat in rhythm with his feet as he made his way to the capital. 

"My life is good," he thought. "My wife and I have passed forty years together. We still make love as we did when we were young, with the same hunger for each others bodies. My children are good to me. I love to see the smiles of my grandchildren, to feel their arms around my neck."
His father had been a doctor in San Antonio de Baño, and he had followed in his footsteps and become a doctor, too. He was thankful for his work, for it had allowed him to provide his family with all of the things they needed and even many of the things they wanted. He had driven a car. He had been able to buy ice cream for his children.
He had become conscious of a need for revolution one day as he was driving through the countryside around San Antonio de Baño. As he was passing a plantation, a small girl, the size of his own daughter, though two years older, he would later discover, because of hunger and disease, the small girl was running toward the road, weeping and waving her hands in the air. He stopped the car and rolled down the window. "What is wrong, my child?" he had asked. "Mi Mama...mi Mama," groaned the child again and again.
At that moment he made a decision that would forever change his life. He stepped out of the car, retrieved his medical bag from the back seat, and followed the little girl, who led him by the hand and sobbed her way back to her familys shack. 
    He walked through the door. He did not move move for a moment as his eyes adjusted from the light of the afternoon sun to the darkness of the windowless shack. An oil lantern burned beside the bed of a woman giving birth to a child. An old woman was at the foot of the bed, tugging on the little feet of the new baby, who was breached because she did not turn before labor began. He knelt beside the old woman, his knees upon the dirt floor, as if he were at prayer, and gently and deftly moved the baby until she came loose from the umbilical cord that held her and came out into the arms of the doctor. She let out a cry. Was it a cry of joy at being alive? Did she know that if her sister had not run to the road, that if the doctor had not stopped his car, that she would be dead?
He gently washed the baby with a pitcher of river water, wrapped her in a tattered blanket, and handed her to her Mother. The little girl held his hand again, not out of fear and sadness but this time out of kindness and love. He knew. From that time on he would dedicate his life and work to make sure there were no more guajiros giving birth in shacks with no medical care. From that time on he would work to make the world a more human place for everyone...especially for the smallest and most forgotten ones in the world.
So here was the old man, still a doctor, still offering his gifts and talents to help and to heal the sick in San Antonio de Baño. And here was the old man, working his off hours as a friend of the revolution.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

My Muslim Neighbor Has A Name

I hear
my Muslim neighbor
talking to her cow.
My Muslim neighbor
has a name.
Her name
is Nenae.

From the side,
her face
is the shape 
of a crescent moon.
Her body
is sinewy thin
like the branches
on the farthest reaches
of the baobab tree
in the center
of our village.
Her eyes
are kind
and tired,
glowing softly
like the light
at sunrise.
She is
beautifully human.

Every morning
she talks her cow
into giving
a pail
of milk.
She leads her cow
into a small area
enclosed by a bamboo fence.
She is close to her cow
and to the land
she shares
with me.
She sings to her cow
and the song
fades into
pings and splashes
of milk
hitting the sides

of a wooden calabash.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Carver’s Song

Our farm is our classroom. Our school, to tell you the truth, isn’t. In many ways, these two places that are so instrumental to my brother and I are the opposite of each other..

Our farm is 80 acres of fields, meadows, trees, and streams to walk over, crawl through, climb up, and swim in. It’s there for us to explore and investigate, and we spend as much of our free time as we can exploring and investigating it.

Our school is a ramshackle shanty, not built of brick and stucco and filled with teaching supplies like the white schools. It’s pieced together with rotting wood and tar paper, empty of desks and textbooks. Carver has 42 students in his 2nd grade class and I have the same number in my 4th grade class. We’re shoulder to shoulder and back to knee in our classrooms!

Our farm has a stream that runs along the back side of our property line. Carver and I like to stand in it barefooted on summer afternoons and feel the smooth rocks against our heels and the wet sand between our toes. We stand as still as we can and look at the life living just below the surface of the water. We talk about all the things we feel and see.

Our school doesn't have indoor plumbing, so we don't have water fountains and flush toilets like the students at the white schools have. We drink water from dippers in open buckets and pee and poop in an outhouse at the back corner of the schoolgrounds. Sometimes we can't play outside on hot, humid days because we have to stop and gag when we breathe in the putrid air. We help our teachers clean up our school each day because we don't have custodians to help us.

Our farm gives us all the space in the world to run free. When we want to see how the little world around us is living or passing on, changing or staying the same, growing or fading away, it gives us all the room we need to walk at our pace asking questions, researching ideas, making hypotheses, doing experiments, and talking about our findings. 

Yep, it gives us our own space to be us, to be Carver and Carter.

Our school is a long way from our farm so when we get there in the mornings and back here in the afternoons our calves are throbbing and our cheeks are glowing but it's not from running freely or walking leisurely. It's from marching dilligently the nine miles to school and the nine miles home. 

Yep, we walk eighteen miles each day to school and back home. 

And that is where my story begins.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Facts of Life

Each day, I try to be a good listener. 

When the theologian and poet Pádraig Ó Tuama was here from Northern Ireland, he told me in an interview how he writes poems. 

"I love your poem The Facts of Life,” I said to him. "What was happening in your heart and mind and life as you wrote that poem?" I asked. 

"I don't know what other people are like," he began, "But certainly for me, a poem presents itself to you, and I have to write. I'm not very good at hanging on to them," he continued. "It's not just the words. You're listening to something. The words are that, but the words are evidence of the listening." 

I am like that in my listening and writing. The words present themselves to me, and I listen. The story is evidence of the listening.

I'm working on a novel. It has themes I love...migration...whales...genius in the in the plain...wonder in the ordinary. 

Holy listening happens in the small spaces between us.

They stood 
side by side, 
she reached 
for his hand, 
took it inside of hers. 

Their fingers 
their palms 
a small, open space 
between them. 

This place,
warm in the snow 
that covered the land 
of Point Hope, 
warm against the icy wind 
that blew 
off the Chukchi Sea. 

"Life is 
in the small, open spaces 
between us," 
said the old ones 
long ago," 
and so 
they stood quietly, 
hand in hand.

-Trevor Scott Barton, poems for a brown eyed girl, 2018

 You can listen to Pádraig’s poem The Facts of Life here -

Monday, December 17, 2018

from “poems for a brown eyed girl”

brown eyes
deep kindness, 
naked, beautiful, 
her smile the sunrise, the sunset

Sunday, December 16, 2018

from “poems for a brown eyed girl”

Kiss each other 
with passionate kisses
again and again.

Make love 
in colors, 

Hold each other 
closely - 
let as much 
of body
be as close 
to body 
as possible.

the magnitude
of love.

con besos apasionados
una y otra vez.

Hacer el amor
en colores,

Se abrazan
de cerca
deja tanto
de cuerpo
estar tan cerco
al cuerpo
como sea posible.

la magnitud
de amor.

- Trevor Scott Barton, poems for a brown eyed girl, 2018

Saturday, December 15, 2018

from “poems for a brown eyed girl”

The wind 
blew strongly 
off the Chukchi Sea,
the cold air 
settled bitterly 
over Point Hope 
and made 
even his bones 

Her brown eyes 
looked tenderly 
into his blue eyes 
and made 
a small warmth 
in the middle 
of his belly 
that began 
to warm him 

Her eyes 
like the earth, 
like the tough yet tender bark 
of the peach trees 
during South Carolina summers 
on the Charleston farms, 
like the blanket 
his abuela 
from the colors 
of the flowers and fields 
of the beautiful mountains 
of El Salvador.

“You know,” 
he thought,
as he looked
into her eyes, 
“They’re just 
like my abuela’s blanket. 
They wrap me 
and keep me  

-Trevor Scott Barton, poems for a brown eyed girl, 2018