When I heard the wind, I knew my daughter would not sleep. From the motel window, Taos Mountain hid behind lavender snowfall swinging thick fluff around its muscles like a towel. My daughter bit my areolas with her two bottom teeth. She squealed, happy, when I winced.

That day, I counted her wet diapers, stained sunflower yellow, and worried she lost nourishment among the prickly pear and cholla as I walked with her strapped to my chest. High desert afternoons fall thirty-degrees at sundown and bring snow rolling off the mountains. My daughter had stopped drinking from a bottle or cup. For weeks now, she only wanted me—my skin on her lips. The sugar from my blood in her mouth.

The New Mexico wind can sound like a choir. It hummed into the cracks in deep windows, mud walls, and carved doors. Instead of muses, the night brought dissonance. I thought of the other being I carried and lost right before my daughter’s cells clung to me. I had proudly displayed the photo-booth-like images of that child-that-wasn’t-to-be for visiting family who would cautiously say, Ah, how sweet. From a town nestled in the Cerrillos hills, I’d bought a tiny terra cotta bud vase that rocked in my palm like a toy. For my table, I’d thought. The mouth would be perfect for the petunias I would later let starve on the deck, the pink and yellow petals fluttering in the wind before they began to wither like light leaving water.

My daughter, at nine months old, breathed the air of the desert as long as her lungs swelled with my fluid. Like so many others who came before me, I watched the mountain furrow with clouds, the fissures looking like trails the mind can touch.

In a photo of my great-grandfather, young, in Bohemia, he proudly poses for the turn-of-the-century studio portrait. New bicycle (stage prop), bowler hat (stage prop), he stands in front of a parlor that is actually a painting of a parlor. The corner of his mouth turns up. All this is my life now, his smile seems to say about the pose itself. Then he left Kožlany and his family of weavers.

A photo I texted my mother a month into my daughter’s life shows the infant plucking the yarn of a blanket like a harp. My mother crocheted this for her. Ribs rippled through the baby’s upper back. I did not make enough milk. The pediatrician, rather than urging me to supplement with formula, instructed me to increase my supply. Take fenugreek pills, pump after you nurse, eat avocado, suck down the “Pink Drink” at Starbucks, check the latch, check the latch again, do not let the baby nap while she nurses, eat oatmeal, bring her into your bed, do not bring her into your bed, meditate, massage your breasts, invite someone to stick needles into your chest, find women who can give you their extra breast milk. I followed advice from the pediatrician, lactation nurses, and Internet message boards.

At the doctor’s recommendation, I met weekly with a lactation nurse. The perky woman pointed with claret and glitter fingernails at a breast-shaped pillow, sang nipple to nose, grabbed my baby’s head, and shoved her face into my chest. Try football hold! she commanded.

I broke like a field pocked with prairie dog holes. I broke like the cottonwoods cracking limbs off in the wind that scatters them around the roots. Like prayers from mouths in a cemetery.

I broke like a skull.

My brain confused my daughter with one of the wouldn’t-be-children. Smiling in her stroller at the park, she would look at me with her marble-blue eyes, and I would say, That summer I lost you, I…. She shifted the shadows of the fir trees off her newly plump legs.

On Halloween, three and a half months after a doctor sucked her out of my birth canal with a vacuum, my daughter finally reached 3 percent on the growth chart. I had supplemented with Similac.

This afternoon, when I opened a café door, I smelled raspberry incense and weed. The wide-eyed barista mumbled, We’re closed today, while she observed a man strum loud chords on a scuffed ukulele. Instead of writing, I returned to the motel, lifted my tank top up, and exposed myself. With her new bottom teeth, she took me in her mouth, jerked her chin back. Moons bloomed around my nipples. Not all nights arrive with stars.

Tyler Mills is the author of Hawk Parable (winner of the Akron Poetry Prize, University of Akron Press 2019) and Tongue Lyre (winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award, Southern Illinois University Press 2013), as well as The City Scattered (winner of the 2019 Snowbound Chapbook Award, forthcoming from Tupelo Press). Her poems have appeared in The New YorkerThe GuardianThe Believer, and Poetry, and her essays in AGNICopper Nickel, and The Rumpus. Her mixed media visual works have appeared in Poetry and Tupelo Quarterly. The recipient of residencies from Yaddo, Ragdale, and the Vermont Studio Center, and fellowships from Bread Loaf, Sewanee, and the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, Tyler Mills is on faculty at 24PearlStreet, the online writing program for the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and serves as editor-in-chief of The Account. She lives in Brooklyn, NY and can be found online here

Photo by Christina Brobby