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
beautiful,
human,
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 simple...beauty 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 
intertwined,
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 - https://padraigotuama.bandcamp.com/track/the-facts-of-life

Monday, December 17, 2018

from “poems for a brown eyed girl”

her 
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, 
intense 
reds
to
deep 
blues
to 
beauty.

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

Feel 
the magnitude
of love.

Besarse
con besos apasionados
una y otra vez.

Hacer el amor
en colores,
intenso
rojos
a
profundo
blues
a
belleza.

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

Sensación
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 
cold.

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 
again.

Her eyes 
were 
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 
made 
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  
warm.”


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

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Taki

In a place that hadn’t been seen by many people, she hadn’t been seen by many people either. The Iñuit people knew from the beginning that every snowflake that falls from the sky is unique. No two snowflakes have ever been alike, are ever alike, or ever will be alike. The crystals that form and make the snowflake are so sensitive to the conditions around them that a breeze blowing over the ice, a cloud passing between the sun and the earth, or the vibrations from the heartbeat of a whale surfacing on the waters of the Chukchi Sea can change them into something new.

Taki’s mother and father knew that she was unique.

On the first day of her life, she was swaddled in a warm blanket in her crib.

Her Grandmother had sewed the three Arctic whales into that red blanket with yellow thread the color of the morning sunrise over the waters.

"With the beluga whale, I hope curiosity and song into the life of the baby," she had whispered, "For the beluga look quizzical in the way they hold their heads and can sing songs that cause us to call them the canaries of the sea.

With the narwhal whale, I hope compassion and empathy into the life of the baby, for the narwhal will place the tip of it's own hornlike tooth into the broken tooth of another narwhal to ease it’s suffering and pain.

And with the bowhead whale, I hope mystery and endurance into the life of the baby, for the bowhead's name is Balaena mysticetus and that best describes it's wonderful ways. Because of the cold, cold Arctic water it lives longer than any other creature in the world.

As she looked up into the weathered faces of her parents with her deep brown eyes, she whistled a beautiful song her Father had heard only once before in his life.

He had been a boy roaming across the ice near the edge of the sea, hunting bowhead whales with his father. There, standing silently beside the water, a bowhead rose to breathe in the air.

The bowhead whale, the Baleena mysticetus, was a source of life and pride for the Iñuit. They subsisted on it’s body and bones, eating it’s meat to keep them warm in deep winter, using it’s skin and baleen to make their boats and fishing nets, and using it’s skeleton to frame their small huts. They whispered it’s name with reverence and awe.

As he raised the harpoon to strike the great whale, he whispered an old Iñuit prayer his grandmother had taught him.

I think over again
My small adventures
My fears,
Those small ones
That seemed so big
For all the vital things
I had to get and reach
And yet there is only one
Great thing,
The only thing
To live to see
The great day
That dawns
And the light that fills
The world

He plunged the harpoon into the whale.

He would remember that moment for the rest of his life.
Normally, when a bowhead whale is struck with the sharpened iron barbs of a harpoon, it dives into the deepest parts of the icy waters and flees across the sea, trying with all it’s might to get away and stay alive.

This whale, though, was not a normal whale. 

As he looked into the eyes of the great whale, as he watched the light go out of it’s wise eyes, he realized it was willingly giving up it’s life for the lives of his people.

The last sound it made was the beautiful whistling song that Taki made on that day of her birth.


As her mother and father looked down at her, they wondered if her song would reach the tiny, powerful ears and the giant, kind hearts of all of the whales in all of the waters of the world, and they wondered if the ancient wisdom of sacrificial love was working in the world again.


Monday, December 10, 2018

Christmas Card From A Shepherd



Dear N’na and N’baba,

You wouldn’t believe what happened to me tonight if you didn’t love me. But you do love me so I know you’ll believe me, and I know your mouth and your eyes and your ears and your heart will be as wide open as mine are when I tell you.

The evening was like any other evening for a poor, lonely, ten year old shepherd like me. Momadu, the shepherd on the hill next to mine, brought his sheep by me on the way back from the stream below us. His first sheep had a sticker on it’s bump that said, “Sheep Happens,” and when Momadu passed by he threw up his hands and smiled and said, “We’re in deep sheep,” so that made me laugh. There’s nothing like good sheep humor to help a shepherd’s day go by.

I led my own flock down to the water. Small clouds of dust rose from the dry, hard, ground as we made our way down the hill. My bare feet stepped over the stony field, calloused from a young lifetime of playing, working and living without shoes.

My sheep seemed to be growing out of the ground, their feet deeply rooted in the dirt. 

“The Lord God formed life from the dust of the ground,” teaches Scripture.

I understand.

When we returned to the top of our hill, and I laid the sheep down in the green pastures for the night, the thing that has changed my life, the thing that will change your life, the thing that will change life itself, happened.

An angel of the Lord stood before me, me a lowly shepherd, and the glory of the Lord shone around me, and I was terrified. But the angel said to me, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left me and gone into heaven, I ran to Momadu and shouted, “Did you see what I saw? Did you hear what I heard?” He did. “Let’s go now to Bethlehem,” I continued, “And see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”  

We went quickly and found Mary and Joseph. 

The child was lying in the manger. 

Mary and Joseph looked at us. We were standing outside of the stable. Our clothes were tattered and torn, our feet were bare and dirty, and we smelled like sheep. I expected them to ask us to leave. But they surprised us. “Come here,” they whispered. They put their arms around our shoulders. “Welcome,” they whispered. 

Mary picked up the baby and put him in my arms. “This is Jesus,” she said. 

He looked up at me. His brown eyes were the same color as my eyes, his brown skin was the same color as my skin. his tattered clothes were as holey as my clothes. I sleep on the hay, too.

I held him close and felt his little heartbeat on my chest. I kissed his forehead with a gentle kiss. He smiled at me, and my life was changed forever.

“Thank you,” I said to Mary and Joseph. “You’re welcome,” they said. They kissed Momadu and I on our foreheads with gentle kisses and sent us on our way.

We told everybody about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what we told them!

But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. We returned, glorifying and praising God for all we had heard and seen, as it had been told us.

Now I’m telling it to you!

N’na and N’baba, I think I know what God is telling us. We’re the smallest and most forgotten people in the world, and God, in this little baby, has become one of us!

The world sees us as chancers and scroungers, layabouts and loungers. Us...the unseen ones. Us...the unloved ones. Us...the lonely ones. But God...God sees us. God...God loves us.  God...God is with us!

As you lay your heads down on your mats tonight, and sleep comes softly over you like a wool blanket, please know that I am

Your Bala

God’s shepherd


- Trevor Scott Barton, Advent, 2018

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Mango Prayer

Dear God, 

This morning I held a mango in my hand. It came from Guatemala. It was soft like a human cheek. It was the color of sunrise. 

I thought about the person who picked the mango. 

Was it a man with two boys like me? Does he pick mangoes to help his family survive? 

Was it a little girl like the little girls in my classroom at school? Does she pick mangoes to help her family live? 

Who picked the mango? 

May our lives go to help the person who picked the mango. 

May our lives go to help all of your children, O God, especially to the ones who are the smallest and most forgotten in the world. 

May your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. 

Amen.


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