This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features three poems by Maggie Millner.


Auxesis with Grief

One says “I do not have what it takes”
but never names the what. The it
changes its terms. A crowded
skinbound feeling taking hold, it takes
again, without depleting what. And one,
whose life had furnished no occasion

to reveal its realer nature to itself, had all along
anticipated it. That I was giving suck
to what one senses now embezzled
from one’s I, I cannot take. A weight
anchors a what. Not a muscle moves an it.
An I hides several thresholds, freeholds,

cargo holds, in one of which a what
is taking shape. Now enter it,
and now it’s holding forth. One means “the what
is not contingent on the presence of
an it, but rather grows inside an I
and holds its tongue.” I held its tongue

which just unscrolled a list of its
demands, not one of which did not begin
with what. “I do not have what it demands”
one hopes one has confuted as a lie.
To lack the what would mean annul
the I. I will not say I never thought of that—

one thinks of that when one is being wrung.
One offers oneself to it with abandon,
then abandons that approach with every day
one does not break. One gives it up.
One gives up what. One gives that what
as long as it will take.



If I sense something is missing
then I miss it. Those first demented
                          hours of your absence, 

I thought missing seemed a soft
denomination: miss, a word for female
                          diminution, sing a word

for joy, hinged together
by an existential is. Somniferous,
                          like skin on different fabrics:

for muslin, for silk, the final velar
thrum of pink shantung. I did not hear
                          for all its plush

the tougher word that word obscured,
its own dull vowels slung between
                          two hard ascenders, sickled

as my dread. Dark starts there. Found
ends there, official as a fingerprint,
                          whose language, being equal

to itself, cannot misstate.
Now we are both missing,
                          in our ways. I am with you

in the shelter of that gerund—
the last word, by some freak
                          of phraseology, we share.



A lake can mean a body
of inland water, or a vibrant ruddy
pigment made from insects known as Coccidae

boiled and administered with alum.
When blood is laked, the blood cells split at random,
break their sheaths and spill their plasm,

as sometimes happens when the skin is badly burned.
The color of the blood (which turns
as sheer as water after laking has occurred)

might be described by chromatists as lake,
while antiquaries might suggest those now-archaic
meanings: lake as sacrifice or bounty, lake as verb: to make

merry, leap, exert oneself in sport. In Chaucer,
it’s a heavy linen used for bedding; goffered
lake was sewn in mourning clothes. Water

teems with meanings, slick as trout.
I call them up to liquidate my doubt:
slake it where it smolders, red with motives. Put it out.



Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).