Take a Breath

by Natalia Trevino


After spending a nearly a week in Santa Barbara with my sis-in-law, I am a bit of a mess. I don't mean emotional wreck mess, but house and life out of order mess.

In Santa Barbara, I spent the days taking down my sis-in-law's parents' house, boxing things, preparing pages and pages of a donations list, packaging plates, keepsakes, utensils, electronics.

I came home last week and saw my own house in this new almost mercenary light. I need drawer space, closet space, desk space. I am between revisions and possibly procrastinating, I realize, but there is no room in the home to put down a new book unless I clear off a stack of other books I am not done reading.

But I am struck by how long would it take some soul to figure out all of the things my family has collected over the years in this house? I would never wish that job of cleaning our our drawers upon my son or my husband's children.

How could anyone sort through our maddening addiction to keeping every card we have ever given each other, every magazine I am afraid to throw away because I may want to read it again later, every piece of jewelry I have ever worn, every plate and cup I have ever used, chipped, or not, it was or is still adorable and full of memories. I do have trouble letting go. I do believe that in every moment, there is depth and a possible portal to making a great poem or to just reflecting on a lived moment. But what has happened is clutter. How do we stop this and make our home a breathing space? How do we get more oxygen in here?

Oxygen. When we are graced with health, we mine it brilliantly and use it in our bodies. How incredible that our lungs are so smart that they unconsciously select the one thing we need to survive, so that we can stay mobile, functional, and healthy for the remainder of our days.

If we take a breath apart, my razor sharp research skills reveal that Wikipedia says, citing P.S.Dhami, G.Chopra, and H.N. Shrivastava's 2015 publication, A Textbook of Biology, (Pradeep Publications), air is made of a wonderful little cocktail. We extract only what is necessary, our oxygen. By looking at how this sorting out happens in nature, in my own body, maybe I can learn how to sort out things here in civilization, where, myself included, many of us probably have a drawer or a basket full of wires we no longer understand from electronics we have once owned in days gone by.  Possibly we also have old cameras, broken cell phones, head phones, children's toys no longer relevant to any life in the house, and reading material we have not gotten to piling up in what should be clear walking spaces for our cat.  OK, now that I have polluted this post enough, here are the contents of our breath taken from clean air, which I want to unpack: nitrogen (78%), oxygen (21%), argon (.9%), carbon dioxide (.04%) and water vapor in variable amounts, depending on, say, how humid your little town is. Mine is often at 99% humidity, and so here in San Antonio, we are breathing in and out a lot of water vapor, which is fabulous for my fuzzy hair days. On the note of water, I found something interesting. Some philosophers of chemistry believe that H2O is not water at all, but a gross oversimplification of the substance we breathe in and drink to stay alive. Check it: Water is not H2O .

And what happens in our lungs is that we have these eency weency sacs in our lungs  called alveoli, which look like beautiful clusters of grapes or hydrangeas blooming at the end of our bronchial branches, and they can only accept oxygen in them. They are the deciders. Sacs with the brains to know what is needed here and what is not, what fits here, and what does not. They practically hand deliver the oxygen to our tiny capillaries that move the good stuff to our heart where depleted blood cells get the juice by traveling in order through our four heart chambers and do another round of giving life for one more moment to our organs and limbs. That is it. That is what I need. I need some alveoli in my outside conscious life, so I can pick out, now, what is needed, what is not, so I can be mobile, functional and survive the rest of my days. 

What a perfect teacher our bodies are for telling us not just that we should live, but how to live in this storage unit consumption day and age. Develop a specific tool that sorts out yes and no what to keep and what to send free into the atmosphere. 

What is the air sac, the grape skin that will help me move through my home freely, so that I can write regularly, love constantly, and maintain what is here to maintain, a cat, two dogs, a teenager, me, and my love who is in love with collecting antique oddities like mustache spoons, and vintage grocery shopping reminder lists like the one hanging up in Mrs. Patmore's Downton Abbey kitchen? He makes my home interesting by honoring the past, and yes, we love to consider the past for the insights and treasures it can give us, but pass me the alveoli please, on a plate, and help me sort out a little more the breathing room.


Tonight a Former Student of Mine Smokes Cigs with Tim O'Brien and I Read to Henry Cisneros

by Natalia Trevino


She was in my comp class Fall 2001 and then she took a few more. Dropped out. Ran an ambulance company. Went to Australia with me to visit my then beloved across the ocean boyfriend. She was an amazing writer. We bought her a tiara on her 19th birthday. For my son, who was four at the time, she wore it. I smiled with my teeth. Had it all to be a writer, a several hundred page memoir already written at 18, the material to make Breaking Bad or House of Cards whimper jealously at their poor little plots. She had the skill, the tough and broken heart.  She went back to school after a long time, after a long struggle away from those healthy little goody goody things I wanted for her, a degree, a safe place to stay the night, a little less of this kind of thing and that kind of thing that kept me worried, up at night, writing emails to her about her future. She finally did it, came back to school, finished an undergrad degree quickly, got an MFA in a flash, is teaching in Florida, kicking ass. Writing, hanging out with Alan Shapiro, Tim O'Brien, Denise Duhamel. She is a rock star. She is going to kill it. She is on her way. She just wants to get more material I think, pay her bills while teaching college kids about kicking ass with their writing. So Proud. So damn proud of this kiddo. She's no child I can claim, no little sister I can cuddle. But we are both daughters of poet Wendy Barker. Wendy cracked her open much more than I ever did. I introduced them though, told Wendy, "this is your granddaughter." Yes, that's a trope! And Wendy took her in, way way way in. 

Tonight was Mega-Corazon 2016-- I read for about twenty minutes. Some new poems, some old poems, and some Lavando La Dirty Laundry poems, all about mothers, my grandmothers, giving birth, going to Mexico as a kid. Mom and Stew came along to give me support. I wore heels this time. Then I was star-struck. Who is in the small audience but Henry Cisneros, the Mayor of San Antonio during most of my life! Front row. Turns out he is brother to George Cisneros the organizer of Urban 15's growing live-streaming event, the biggest in the world, I think, Mega Corazon, 15-20 poets, all reading twenty minutes, all filmed, all broadcast on the net for nine hours straight, George, the nicest host, musician and San Antonio arts supporter you can meet. He makes a good mole too, competed in the Mole Cook Off earlier this year. Henry was there with their mom and his wife, Mary Alice. Gulp, breathe, and yes, read poetry to them, San Antonio's Royal Family, for twenty minutes. Yes, and to good friends in the audience too,  my mom (heart), my hubby videotaping me (heart heart), Anthony the Poet backstage, telling me he might be feeling sick, Mariana Aitches, watching, supporting, and glistening in her beauty, ready to read, Andrea Vocab Sanderson, who just blows me away with her beautiful voice and prolific creations. Me talking about birth, a beheaded goddess who became la Virgen, and my grandmother's adoption story. It's been a big day, my mega-heart, San Antonio's Mega- Corazon in tow. Grateful.

Dad, I hope you were watching too. This is the first time I did it with you not watching live or streaming it on your computer. Can you read what I write too? Can you see through the film of these life-death walls that have us apart right now? Can you e-stream from heaven?