Sunday, January 19, 2020

No human is illegal

His abuelo lifted the iron knocker on the oak church door and let it fall back onto it’s tarnished iron plate. He did this again and again until a nun cracked open the door.

The nun hand worked in the inner-city for many years and had seen many things, but never had she seen the beauty and suffering she saw in the faces and bodies of Maria and Gustavo at the church door that night.

Their eyes were alight with beauty - the beauty of being - the beauty of bringing a new life into the world.

Their bodies were heavy with suffering. They were covered with the dirt and sweat and blood of thousands upon thousands of miles of migration along the migratory road.

Their shoulders sagged under the weight of months of homelessness. The only homes they had found during their journey were the small spaces and simple kindnesses that people had shown them along the way.

They were still and very quiet.

They didn’t make a sound.

The old nun wrapped her arms around them.

“I’m here,” she whispered.

“Estoy aquí.”

Immigrant Hearts (a poem)

Loves home
Winter snow
Spring mountain flowers
Summer salt in the deep, wide sea
Fall leaves on the colorful trees are art for my heart

With tears in eyes, my heart pulls on its brown tattered coat, black holey shoes and red wool scarf

My heart is so tired, poor, huddled, wretched, homeless and tempest-tost. It loves its memories, family, home but it is time for it to go

Too many cold, deserted eyes at checkpoints in lonely streets pointed guns at my heart; too many clouds in rainy seasons empty of rain brought pain to my heart; too many coughs from my children's chests late into night broke my heart

My heart picks up its battered suitcase, with tape all around its ends, lest it break open and spill out my father's favorite shirt, a love letter, a picture of my beautiful children, all I have in the world, onto the ground

Deep in the hull of a ship tossing on stormy seas; high on the roof of a train winding down a long, steep hill; barefoot on a dusty road

Silent, back to back, knee to knee, with poor women and little children…immigrant hearts

With each step along the way our hearts whisper, "Thank you"
With each mile they long for, "I care"
They hope for kindness


Saturday, January 18, 2020

poems for a brown eyed girl

She saw him
on the rocks
that connected
her land
with the water.

The wind blew
off the icy sea
and whipped
his brown face
until he looked
as if
he might
become a part
of the salt,
and sea
that made up
the Arctic land.

The three shirts
and one coat
he owned
weren't enough
to protect him
from the cold,
and the skin
of his cheeks
and the water
in his eyes
with the sunset.

"He looks
so small
against the sky
and the sea,"
she thought.
"He looks
so weak
against the rocks
and the ground."

weak things
to survive
around the Chukchi Sea,
she knew.

Her heart
was big
and strong
and warm,
and that
is what helped
her live
in this cold,

Her eyes
were brown
and kind,
and that
is what helped
her see
in this fierce,

"I know
his heart
is big
and strong
and warm,
she thought
as she took
the lantern
out of the window
and headed
into the evening
to guide him

Trevor Scott Barton, poems for a brown eyed girl, 2020

El viento sopló
fuera del mar helado
y batida
su cara morena
hasta que miró
como si
él podría
hazte parte
de la sal,
arenaElla lo vio
en pie
con hielo
que conectado
su tierra
con el agua.

 y mar
que compone
La tierra ártica.

Las tres camisas
y un abrigo
él era el dueño
no fueron suficientes
para protegerlo
del frío,
y la piel
de sus mejillas
y el agua
en sus ojos
con la puesta de sol.

tan pequeño
contra el cielo
y el mar,"
tan debil
contra las rocas
y el suelo ".
cosas débiles
para sobrevivir
alrededor del mar de Chukchi,
ella supo.

Su corazón
era grande
y fuerte
y cálido,
y eso
es lo que ayudó
su vida
en este frío,

Sus ojos
eran marrones
y amable,
y eso
es lo que ayudó
ella ve
en esta fiera,

"Lo sé
su corazón
es grande
y fuerte
y cálido,
como ella tomó
la linterna
fuera de la ventana
y se dirigió
en la noche
para guiarlo

- Trevor Scott Barton, poemas para una niña de ojos marrones, 2020

Deep Dive

I try to dive deep. 

At or near the surface, it’s difficult to see. Water refracts light, and salt water is translucent, so when you open your eyes in the sea you can see, but you can't really see, and that is a problem if you want to see clearly.

It’s dangerous to think you can see when you really can't.

So I like to dive far below the surface, where there is no light, but only darkness. 

In the darkness, you can't use your eyes. Your brain wonders what to do, because normally it uses most of it's power to process the things the eyes see. Immediately, it has to turn it's power to hearing, a sense we don't use much in today's world, but that we need to use more, yes?

In the deep, we listen for the whole, not just the part. 

Normally, when we think we can see, we see the part then stop looking and fill in the story with what we already know. 

But in the deep, things aren't so easily known. So we must listen.

Creatively. Courageously. Compassionately.

It is listening that makes us more human, that helps us build a more human world.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Notes from public school - day 93

Being a teacher and a writer is like being a farmer.
Here is how I learned that from my grandpa.

Early in summer, when more and more tomatoes were changing from shades of green to shades of red, my grandpa and I set out first thing one morning to check on the ripening fruit. 

When you are a farmer, there is a thankfulness deep inside of you when the growing is almost done and the harvesting is about to begin. 

You yourself are in the crop, and the crop is in you.

I came across a tomato that was developing a dark, soft spot on it's skin. This tomato was much smaller than the other tomatoes on the vine. It was at the bottom of the vine and very nearly touched the ground.

- Pepa, I'm gonna pick this one and throw it out. It has blight on it.

- Don't pick that tomato, Trev. Listen, I want to teach you something about the world. Follow me.

I followed him. 

We walked out of the garden and into the work shed at the back of the yard. That place was a place of wonder to me. Inside of it were mason jars filled with nuts, bolts, screws and nails. There were all sorts of tools hanging on the walls. And at the center of it all were the things I will always remember him by - Duck Tape, baling wire, WD 40 and aloe. 

Not only could these things fix the stalled engine of a tractor, a sputtering faucet in a sink, or a dangling clothesline on a pole, but they could also create a basketball rim (he wove one out of baling wire and hung it above the door of the shed for me), assuage arthritic knees (he used to spray WD 40 on his knees in the early morning to help him get around), and cure the common cold (he would drop a mixture of aloe and water into my nose to sooth my scratchy throat). If you are looking for a miracle, find a farmer with those things and you will find one.

- Hey, that tomato is small, broken and at the bottom. But you know what? It could grow into something beautiful if we care for it. Who knows, it might become the tastiest tomato we've ever grown. So let's be the ones who don't throw it out. Let's be the ones who take it in. Let's be the ones who care.

He carefully cut out a square and two rectangles from some old plastic pieces he stored in the corner of the building. He bound them together with Duck Tape. He sprayed the edges with WD 40. 

We made our way back to the garden and to the small, broken, lowly tomato.

He held the tomato in his calloused hands and ever so gently spread aloe over the blighted part.

Skillfully and lovingly, he attached the handmade shelter around the tomato with baling wire.

- This will protect it from the heat of the sun and keep it off of the ground. This will give it a chance.

I did learn something about the world that day. The small, the broken and the lowly have worth and beauty. You can throw them away, or you can care for them. 

That kind of care can mend a broken world.

For the tomato.

For my students.

For us.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Notes from public school - day 92

In case you don’t know, let me be the first to tell you - whales sing. I know this because of the life and work of a scientist named Katy Payne. She lived and worked on the coast of Argentina. She loved the whales that migrated along that coast. 
In 1964, she took a trip to Bermuda to meet with a Navy engineer named Frank Watlington who also loved whales. He was recording with underwater microphones called hydrophones, which were tools the U.S. Navy had used to listen for Soviet submarines during the Cold War. It was during this recording that he picked up the sound of a humpback whale.

When she boarded Watlington’s ship, Payne didn’t know they’d be listening to anything. “I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard the sound whales make, have you?” asked Watlington. He played the sound of the humpback whale for her.

Katy would later say, “I had never heard anything like it. Oh, my God, tears flowed down my cheeks. I was just completely transfixed and amazed because the sounds are so beautiful, so powerful - so variable. They were, as I learned later, the sounds of just one animal. Just one animal.”

Up until that moment, Watlington had kept the recordings a secret. He was afraid whalers would use his discovery to help them hunt and kill whales. He gave the recording to Payne. “Go and save the whales,” he told her.

There was something peculiar about the sounds that Payne didn’t recognize at first. It took special ears and knowledge to find it. She had both. She had grown up on a farm and gone to college to study music and biology. She would become an acoustic biologist and spend her life watching and listening to elephants and whales, an amazing thing for a human being to do.

As she listened to the humpback whale, she wanted to see the sounds. She used a spectrogram to see pictures of their peaks, valleys and gaps. She traced them with a pencil on the paper and began to see a structure, a structure that looked like melodies and rhythms.

“The whale is singing a song,” she whispered.


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Notes from public school - day 91

I love words.
Sometimes, in the hours before dawn, I lie in bed with my eyes closed, and say some of my favorite words over and over again - serendipity, beauty, plain, genius, simple, wonder, ordinary, kindness. They are my comfort and joy as I prepare to give myself to the world as a teacher and a writer in a public school.

I carry an old copy of Webster’s dictionary in my back pocket. If I have moments during the day when I am still and silent (of course, those moments come few and far between for a 4th grade teacher during the school day), I open it and read a page and learn new words that I never knew or ever used before.

Today I learned the word akimbo, which is an adverb that means hands on the hips with elbows turned outward.

As a teacher, I often have to stand akimbo in front of a room full of lively nine and ten year olds.

Sanctuary is my word for 2020.

The most important paper I wrote in college was about the Sanctuary Movement.

Have you heard of it?

It was an underground railroad that helped protect refugees fleeing from violence in Central America in the 1980.

The movement is still alive (and giving life) today.

I love the idea of offering my life to help and protect others. I love the idea of being a sanctuary in the world. I love the idea of opening my heart and mind as a sanctuary.

For my students.

And for you.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Notes from public school - day 90

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Did anyone ever ask you that question?

I asked it to myself in my middle years as an English Major at UNC Chapel Hill.

“I want to be an inner-city teacher and a writer,” I answered.

That’s what I’ve become.

(Or maybe it’s better to say that’s what I’m becoming, because both of those vocations are more journeys than destinations.)

My second choice was to be a doctor.

I wanted to be a pediatrician.

I wanted to help the world by healing broken arms or asthmatic lungs or leukemia or any and all of the diseases of childhood.

Sometimes, I still do.

So it made my heart smile when one of my students, Ariana, asked, “Mr. Barton, can Natalia and I use our Chromebooks during indoor recess today to search for a cure for cancer?”

“I’m going to be a researcher,” said Natalia. “And Ariana is going to be a surgeon.”

“Yep,” said Ariana. “We’re planning on working together.”

I stopped and let that smile rise to my face and to my eyes.

I looked at these two nine year old girls in my 4th grade classroom in my Title I school in one of the poorer parts of my city with deep compassion and wide wonder.

“Wow,” I said. (That is one of my favorite words, you know.) “Natalia, you can discover the cure in your lab. Ariana, you can take that cure to the people. I just want you to know how thankful I am for you and how lucky I am to be your teacher.”

They gave me the same smiles you can see in their picture below.

And as I sit and write in my inner-city classroom on this ordinary Tuesday afternoon, I realize...

I am becoming a doctor.

Through them.