with phrases from North American Combustion Handbook
White provides positive furnace pressure.
White doubles down, moves home, comes skiing.
White bites a biscuit, sips the white spark.
I’m thirsty, white.
White says we need to take more time.
White looks, white is not there.
I wrote "White" while attending the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley Poetry Workshop in the 2000s. The poem sprang in turn from an exercise I had created for a creative writing class: somehow I had found in our library (Cleveland State's) a copy of a book called North American Combustion Handbook and in it, a page, which I think had a diagram of a flue damper or a butterfly valve, something, anyway, that caught my eye. I photocopied the page and brought it to class on Valentine's Day. "Write a love poem for your Valentine," I said. "Use as many of the terms from this page as you can." Total fun; lots of students worked the word "diaphragm" into their poems!
Later that summer, at the Community of Writers workshop, I had that photocopied page stuffed in the notebook I had brought with me. The format at Squaw Valley is to write a new poem each day and workshop it. I wrote "White" for Lucille Clifton's workshop. Afterwards, I just put the poem away. Then, as the saying goes, "years later," specifically, earlier this spring, 2016, I saw Claudia Rankine's poem, called "Sound and Fury," in the March 28 New Yorker. Her amazing poem made my eyes pop for so many reasons, but in some part because it reminded me of the strategy (the rhetorical structure) of "White." Even the phrase, "double down," which appears in both poems, sparked my recognition. It is entirely because I saw Ms. Rankine's poem that I dug "White" out of an archive on my hard drive, and sent it out in a packet. Because I loved and admired Lucille Clifton, and because I was at the time quite anxious about bringing this poem, which names my race, to her workshop, the whole incident frankly remains a fairly resonant one in my writing life.