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110 world as if the river itself were a God. Today it gives you a beach to gather seagull eggs with beautiful girls in pink windbreakers and rubber boots. The next day it devours the place, reminding you not to count on much. If nature adds a little disruption to a river, say rocks, or a bend, or a drop, it will protest like a drunk at last call, hollering louder than reason, exchanging rage for attention. So when Ron reappeared in my life and wanted me to go up the Kuskokwim River with him last summer, there were many good reasons, beyond that he is not my husband, to say no. But I went. I went to see his hands, freckled, calloused and grimy in the western Alaska June. I went to compare the color of his cheeks to the eddies along the gravel bars. I went to see his hair, thinner than when I first met him, as the down of the dwarf fireweed bending in the evening wind. I went to see how his freckles matched the shells of arctic tern eggs. I went to see if the difference between him and the river was a clear line, or something more like the long Alaskan summer twilight. I thought he went for the same reasons. Because we met each other there, our souls rubbed raw on its banks. But I was wrong. I was always wrong about Ron. Right up until the end. Everyone knows why he was on the river that night. It turned out his reasons were more like spruce pollen in the warmest Alaska springs; dense and thick, blowing in yellow clouds across the sky, coating even the dishes in your cabinet. After all, he was never subtle. By the time they counted the votes, it was hard to know how many people watched his story. YouTube says 3.5 million. Each of them left behind their own smudged footprints. And like the springs with too much pollen, I was left sweeping it, and the truth, off the floors. ****** When milk which should be feeding your child is spilling out of you, making you change clothes twelve times a day and shove entire dish towels into your bra, it’s hard not

CIRQUE to cry. Every few hours the tingling would begin, first low in my breast, then spread toward the nipple, and before I could stop it, the two dark stains of disappointment spread across my shirt, a sticky reminder that without a willing recipient, a gift is just a burden. My unwilling recipient was slapping her hands on the only basket of toys not dumped on the living room rug. Her head was covered in a mist of dark hair, standing up in a humidity-defying halo, making her look like a snow monkey from behind, especially since she was in just a diaper. I watched her from the chair. My breast, which had once been full and round, a point of pride on a body I have never loved like I should, hung out of my nursing bra, limp and depleted. My girl leveraged her arms against my torso to fling herself away from me, and then alternated between flailing and going stiff until I released her. Once she was away from me, she squealed and beat a stuffed butterfly against the floor. The rejection stunned me; only the day before she had dug her head into my chest and stroked my arm while she nursed. Her eyes had fluttered and then landed shut, her mouth slack with milk spilling out of the corner. But today she was having none of it. I nursed Colby and Liam, my two boys, until my body ached to be mine alone, prying my nipple from their weeping mouths when I could hardly stand their touch. If I’d been a dog, I’d have bitten them for lifting my shirt without asking. Even so, when I was weaning Liam, my younger son, I caved and crawled out of bed, my head wincing with each scream. Steve grunted. “You know if you nurse that boy the last three hours of shrieking have been wasted. Right?” His voice was sticky with fatigue. But I had no choice: my milk had let down and I had to fill his emptiness by pouring myself in. When I reached the crib, he was standing, hair wild and sweaty, face puffy and red. He gripped the crib rails while his knees buckled with exhaustion. His terror at being left alone was akin to a deer who locks eyes with a hunter the moment they both know a bullet is imminent. I grabbed Liam and lifted my t-shirt. He landed on my lap like a mountain big enough to make its own weather and shoved his face into me hard.

Profile for Michael Burwell

Cirque, Vol. 6 No. 2  

A Journal for the North Pacific Rim

Cirque, Vol. 6 No. 2  

A Journal for the North Pacific Rim

Profile for burwellm
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