Saturday, November 30, 2019

self portrait

Self portrait

Sometimes, as he wrote, light glowed around him like the halo of a saint, or the mischievousness of a sinner, at his bare work desk. 

He used words to fight loneliness - the loneliness of the farmers giving their hearts to the land day after day, year after year, until they became the dust from which they were made...the loneliness of the workers, giving their bodies to the factories, day after day, year after year, until they became the gears and grease themselves…and the loneliness of the servants, giving their souls to their patróns, day after day, year after year, until they became the rags and the buckets from which they served.

They were all working, the farmers, the workers, the servants, and the writer for subsistence, enough to live.

They were all working for shelter, enough wood and tin to build a small house.

They were all working for song, enough music to bring beauty to the world.

They were all working for nothing, and yet for everything.

poems for a brown eyed girl - ode to earth

ode to earth


The earth 
rocks me
back and forth, 
up and down, 
head over heels,
round and round. 


oda a tierra


La tierra
me mece
de ida y vuelta,
arriba y abajo,
patas arriba,
vueltas y vueltas.


- Trevor Scott Barton, poems for a brown eyed girl, 2019

Friday, November 29, 2019

52 Blue

In 1992 in the North Pacific Ocean, a Navy hydrophone picked up the song of a whale. The whale sang and listened...sang and listened...sang and listened...but heard no song in return.

“The whale must be in the Balaenopteridae family, for it is gigantic,” said the scientists. Normally, the giant whales sing their songs and other whales sing back. The song helps the whales form close friendships of songs in the vast loneliness of the sea. This was not a normal situation, though, and this was not a normal whale.

The scientists named the whale 52 Blue, because it sings it’s song at a frequency of 52 Hertz, the frequency of basso profundo, the frequency just above the lowest note on a tuba. “Because 52 Blue sings at that frequency,” noted the scientists, “No other of the Balaenopteridae family can hear it’s song and sing back. Blue whales and their kin sing at between 10 and 40 Hz, so they can’t communicate with 52 Blue.”

The 2004 edition of the journal Deep-Sea Research reported that the song of 52 Blue came from a single whale whose movements, “Appeared to be unrelated to the presence or movement of other whale species.” Whales are migrants, and like migrant workers, the follow a predictable path year after year, season after season, time after time. Not 52 Blue, though.

I wrote this poem for 52 Blue,

Where Are You?
Wandering, Singing
Singing Unheard Wandering Songs

"Can You Hear Me? Are You There? Are You?
 I Am Alone"

Listening, Longing For Songs Gently Sung
"I Hear You, Song On Water, I'm Here,
I'm Here"

We Sing At Diff'rent Frequencies
Migrate Along Diff'rent Routes
Wandering, Wondering

Unheard, Unknown,
Wand'ring The Sea
Song On Water

Singing Unheard Wondering Songs
Wondering, Singing
Who Are You?

If you want to learn more about 52 Blue, you can read this wonderful article titled 52 Blue by the great writer Leslie Jamison in Atavist Magazine -

Stories for a Brown Eyed Girl

Gabby took the bus home to her apartment.

“Cómo estás, Luisa?” she asked the small woman in the window seat as she sat down beside her.

“Bien,” she answered. “A little tired. I cleaned a lot of rooms at the motel today. Y tu?”

“Si, bien. Un poco cansado, tambien. I scrambled a lot of eggs at the Scrambled Egg. I can’t wait to put my feet up and rest them. What you doing this evening?”

“I’m going to cook for my family and take my daughter to help me clean the doctor’s office. Then I’ll rest.”

Gabby put her arm around Luisa’s shoulder and hugged her.

“Eres una buena mujer,” she said. I’m glad you’re my friend.

“Y tu, mi Amiga. Y tu.”

Gabby got off the bus in front of her apartment on the west side of the city. She lived on the poor side of town. She and her neighbors didn’t have much money, but they did have a lot of kindness for each other.

‘Sup Gabby. How you doin’?” asked Bryant, who everyone called Big B. He had just come home from his job as a mechanic at the auto shop.

“Hola Big B. Not much. Just glad to be home. How was your day?”

“It was all good. The squeaky wheel got the grease, as they say, today and ev’ry day.”

“One of these days I’m gonna buy a car and the only person I’m gonna let work on it is you.”

“Deal. If you need anything, let me know, okay?”

“Sure thing! Same here.”

“You could come over and cook up some steak and eggs for me, you know.”

“Ugh, anything except that. I’ve cooked enough steak and eggs today...and ev’ry day!”

“Bet. I’m jus’ kiddin’ wit’ cha. Night Gabby. Be safe.”

“Night B. You be safe, too.”

She took her key out of her pocket and opened the door to her apartment. 

It was one room. There was a holey sofa that pulled out into a bed with a small table and a lamp beside it. Three books, The House on Mango Street, The Old Man and the Sea and Poems for a Brown Eyed Girl, were on a bookshelf made out of a cut board and two concrete blocks against the wall. An ancient transistor radio was in the corner. A painting by Jasper Johns of three American Flags, one on top of the other, smallest to largest, was on the wall. It was a gift from one of her regular customers at The Scrambled Egg.

The room was simple and beautiful, like her.
She picked up the small book of poems, turned on the lamp, sat down on the sofa, stretched her legs in front of her.

She opened the book to the poem An Ode to a Migrant Woman’s Feet.

She read,

Her feet 
were calloused and cracked  
like rocks 
in plowed ground, 
like stones 
in turned soil, 
the soil 
she walked over 
as her grandfather 
turned the earth 
with donkey and plow. 

She had 
the feet 
of her grandfather, 
for she had walked 
beside him 
down the long rows 
of beans and corn 
since the time 
she learned 
to toddle. 

He had 
up and down 
those rows 
until his feet 
were broken and bent 
and made him appear 
to be 
to God, 
or to the wealthy land owner, 
or to the land itself. 

Her feet 
would one day 
be broken and bent 
like that.

When her feet 
were in the soil 
it was 
as if 
they were part 
of the land, 
as if 
they held the secrets 
of the earth, 
as if 
they knew the mystery 
of how seed 
and dirt 
and water 
can become 
a bean 
in a pod,
a kernel 
on an ear 
of corn. 

Her heart 
was in her feet, 
her heart 
was in the land, 
her heart 
was the mystery 

Her feet spoke, 
"Estoy aquí, 
I am here, 
estoy aquí." 

Her feet 
were signs 
to the world - 
"I am 
a human being." 

“Estoy aquí,” she whispered to the world. “I am here.”

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Katy Payne - acoustic biologist

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 is a scientist who lived and worked on the coast of Argentina. She loved the whales that migrated along that coast.

In 1964, Payne 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 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.

You can learn more about Katy Payne by listening to this interview Krista Tippett did with her on the podcast On Being -

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

stories for a brown eyed girl

They sat in the single, windowless examination room at the Barrier Islands Free Medical Clinic on Johns Island. Hilcias studied the yellowing eye chart on the back of the closed door of the room and practiced saying the letters in his mind, from Spanish to English, and then from English back to Spanish, until he could think them into a seamless line and know that he knew them without even having to think.

His mamí flipped through the pages of an old Life Magazine with an immigrant mother and child on the cover.

His abuelo stared at a watercolor painting on the wall of a heavy laden peach tree, the colors of the ripe peaches glowing brightly against the white walls of the room, and then clasped his hands in his lap and looked thoughtfully into them as if he were looking into the deepest parts of the world.

There was a tap on the door. A young doctor walked into the room. “Buenos Dias, amigos,” she said. “Me llamo Maria. Como estas ustedes?”

She had eyes like his abuelo, earthy brown, so he trusted her immediately. She wore a white doctor’s coat, faded blue jeans and old tennis shoes, and that helped the whole family relax and trust her, too.

“Well,” she began, “Let’s talk about Hilcias.”

We looked over his brain scans and studied them very carefully, and we didn’t find any organic reason why he doesn’t speak. The other tests on his ears, nose and throat came back normal, too, so all of the parts of us that help us speak are well and good inside of him.”

His mamí put her arm around his shoulder, held him close to her, and breathed out a long, slow, quiet sigh of relief.

“But we still haven’t answered the question,” continued Dr. Maria. “Why doesn’t Hilcias speak?”

She pulled up a chair in front of him, sat down in it, and leaned her face close to his face until her nose gently brushed against his nose.

“So now we’ve got to walk together down a path into places we don’t know,” she smiled. “The only person who can tell us why he’s not talking…is not talking.”

He smiled back at her and looked away from her deep, brown eyes and down at her feet.

Suddenly, he whistled the most beautiful notes Dr. Maria had ever heard in her life. They reminded her of the joy she felt as a little girl standing in the fields with her family on their farm in El Salvador, and at the same time of the sadness she felt as she worked day after day to try to help person after person who was just trying to make a life in a place where it was hard to live.

The music brought a stillness and a quiet to the room.

After a moment, his abuelo spoke.

“He says he does speak, but he speaks in his own way, I think.”

And it was true.

- Trevor Scott Barton, stories for a brown eyed girl, 2019

Reflections on shoes by Van Gogh

My name is Elias. 
I’m a cobbler. 
“All God’s children got shoes," says the old song.

It’s true, you know. 

Everybody wears shoes. 

When you wear a hole in the sole, or split out the side, or scuff the leather..,when your shoes look old and worn and tired...come to my shop and I’ll help you. 

I’ll polish the leather until it shines like new. 

I’ll sew the rips and tears so your feet will stay warm and dry. 

I can mend them if you’ll let me.

If you’re too busy to stay, you can leave your shoes and come back later and pick them up. 

Or you can rock here in this rocking chair and watch me work. 

I take my time because I want to do a good job. 

You don’t have to talk to me if you don’t want to. 

You can just rock and listen to the tap-tap-tapping of my mallet and the stitch-stitch-stitching of my needle and the brush-brush-brushing of my cloth upon the shoes. 

Or you can rock and talk to me about things on your mind and in your heart. 

It’s okay. 

I like to listen. 

Listening is an act of love. 

I want to hear your stories. 

If you’re quiet for a while, then I’ll start to talk about people I’ve known and places I’ve been and things I've done and feelings I’ve felt. 

I’ve spent most of my days here at my workbench, alone with the shoes.

It’s nice to have someone listen to my stories.

- Trevor Scott Barton, stories for a brown eyed girl, 2019


They were migrant workers.

They made their way to the United States when things in El Salvador were so bad, and there was more death for them there than life.

They made their way through Mexico to the border on a train called The Beast.

A kind priest listened to their story and led them to an Underground Railroad that took them to a church in Arizona that gave them sanctuary.

They were never able to get their papers to be in the United States legally, but they began a migration across the country, dropping their sweat and blood onto the ground of states across the west, midwest and south, until they found themselves in South Carolina, many thousands of miles and heartbeats away from where they began their journey.

They picked tomatoes and peaches near the coast of the Atlantic Ocean around Charleston, living in an old, broken down school bus.

Hilcias knew they’d move down the coast through Georgia to Florida as summer changed to fall changed to winter, and that they’d move back up the coast along that same migratory route as winter changed to spring changed to summer again.

He used to despair the moving until he learned that blue whales are migrants, too, and that we move many thousands of miles, like him, season after season, year after year.

This made his heart hopeful.

He made my heart hopeful.

- Trevor Scott Barton, stories for a brown eyed girl, 2019

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Notes from public school - day 68

Thanksgiving holiday.

I love it!

Of all the holidays we celebrate throughout the year, Thanksgiving is my favorite.

I love the tenderness in it.

I love the thankfulness in it.

I love the togetherness in it.

As a teacher, one of the most tender moments in my school year is turning out the lights of my classroom and walking out of the front doors of the school building into 5 days of family, friends, food and fun.

Ah, rest after months of good, hard work.

As I take a few days from writing ‘Notes,’ I’m thankful for you, gentle reader.

Thank you for walking along beside me during this school year, holding hands with my words as we journey through the days in my classroom and look into the faces of my students.

The picture below is one of my favorites from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

It is symbol of the kind of community I work to build every day.

I’m thankful we’re together in it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 25, 2019

the human face

The human face Is

I see
the human face,
and I weep,
from a place 
deep inside me, 
"The eyes of the heart,”
for it is there, 
only there, 
that I can see 
the human face,
build a place
for all  
human faces.

I see
brown eyes
filled with kindness, 

I see 
hands and feet 
filled with compassion,

I see
a smile,
the sunrise and sunset,

I turn
and kiss
the cheeks
of the human face
and whisper,
"I’m here.”

El rostro humano es

 el rostro humano
 y lloro
 de un lugar
 muy dentro de mi,
 "Los ojos del corazón"
 porque está ahí
 sólo allí,
 que puedo ver
 el rostro humano
 construir un lugar
 para todos
 rostros humanos

 ojos cafes
 lleno de amabilidad

 manos y pies
 lleno de compasión,

 una sonrisa,
 el amanecer y el atardecer

 mi turno
 y beso
 las mejillas
 del rostro humano
 y susurro
 "Estoy aquí."

  • Trevor Scott Barton, poems for a brown eyed girl, 2019