Ted Lardner



with phrases from North American Combustion Handbook

White provides positive furnace pressure.
White piggybacks the system controls.
White minimizes the chimney effect
with special equipment white provides.

White doubles down, moves home, comes skiing.
Welcome, white, love of my life.
We were talking, I was talking, how easy white is,
how difficult white is, how it is.

White bites a biscuit, sips the white spark.
White amplifies the detection circuit.
In the standard comparison white provides
white floats away, vaporized, roaring.

I’m thirsty, white.
(White's got a maintenance problem in the past.)           
Things are tough, white.
This is feeling risky.

White says we need to take more time.
Dumfounded white. Confounded white.
Can we please appreciate the butterfly valve?
Was something sticky back on square one?

White looks, white is not there.
White adjusts the air-jet damper,
pinches the spring on the manual flower.
White thinks white is everywhere.





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.