Peter Mladinic


RIP, James L. White

When I was younger, the person who
listened to me and encouraged me
was gay. He was attracted to me
and always respected my space.

I had a car, he didn’t. One night we went
to a movie, The China Syndrome.
On the way home I used the word
cocksucker, he asked me not to,

it was offensive. He didn’t make me
feel like crap about it. There was no
uneasy silence till I dropped him off.
Mostly he taught me struggle, his

struggle as a man mirrored his struggle
as a poet. Nothing came easy, yet
his passion and persistence sharpened
his blade as he carved poems

that met his own high standard. Often
he failed, but also succeeded. His
best reflected his struggle. Out of pain
he wrought beauty. He wrote about

being gay, gave readers a glimpse into
his soul in ways they could see into
the souls of other men. He never
would have said, Here’s a gay poem

I wrote. I am certain of that. Certain
when it came to poetry he shunned labels.
In his poems he was himself. One Sunday
at a reading before a sizeable audience

at the Walker Art Center he paused
to note a small round pin on his lapel.
I think it was red and black. He said
this was the symbol Hitler made

homosexuals wear, that he was wearing it
so we, his audience, wouldn’t have to.
With his egg-shaped head, thin blond
hair, just a wisp of hair, and his dark

horn-rimmed glasses and tweed sport-coat
he stood at the lectern. His hand
lightly lifted the lapel. “I’m wearing it
so you don’t have to.”