Meet my father, DeForest “Bud” Baldwin.

Glass Half Empty

He loved to be the devil’s advocate.
If you pleaded in favor of the notion of progress
or argued for the goodness of faith-based optimism,
he would, in his quiet way,
set out to destroy your thesis point by point.

Dad was a philosophical pessimist.
He was not emotional about it,
but he felt he was doing you a favor
by exposing the flaws in your illusions.

Optimists look at the bright side.
He would gently point out
the human condition was not improving at all.
As he aged and declined in health,
he believed history was not progressing,
but actually was getting worse.

There is something to be said
for being correct about the human condition.
When he was young and full of life,
he took pleasure in setting the record straight.

Dad put himself in a logical box.
By placing himself,
the world, and all its inhabitants
on a metaphorical death row,
what was there to live for?
Where was the happiness in soft nihilism?

January 20, 2022

If you would like to comment about the poetry or contact me, you can reach me at davebaldwin37@gmail.com.

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Here is a poem about my maternal grandfather.

On Mount Wilson

September 1959

Mother said her father,
my grandfather, had a request.
He wanted to take a drive

up to Mount Wilson for a day
and he asked to take me with him.
Just me.

I thought that was strange,
but I said OK.
It was strange because it was rare

for me to have any alone time
with Grandfather
and to be honest

I was never that close to him
because I feared his temper.
On an overcast Saturday morning,

the two of us took the hour-long drive
from Lorain Road
to the Observatory grounds.

Both of us were familiar
with the telescope
and the public access area

surrounding it,
so we strolled to the edge
of the mountaintop

overlooking the Los Angeles basin.
It occurred to me
this is what he really wanted to do:

look down on the City of Los Angeles.
It was early afternoon
and by now the morning fog

was a layer of unsightly smog
two thousand feet thick
pressing against the San Gabriel Mountains

with only the higher hills of the basin
poking out into the clear air.
There was nothing to see,

but he just stood there
for the longest time,
looking to the south and talking to me.

Somehow, Grandfather found it comforting
to look to the south and talk to me.
Three months later, Grandfather was dead.

January 5, 2022

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More family history. This is a Christmas poem from the year 1951 when I was nine years old.

Perfume

Christmas was coming.
I walked into J.J. Newberry,
the five and dime on Huntington Drive,
and approached the perfume counter.
The saleslady could see
I didn’t have a lot to work with.
She tried to fit quality to my budget
by showing me a tiny container
of a popular brand.
I was not impressed.
I pointed to a larger rectangular bottle
with very pale blue glass.
The price was four dollars.
I put my money down
and left the store
feeling good about myself.
On Christmas morning,
Mother opened my gift
of cheap perfume from the five and dime
and made a great show
of thanking me for my kindness.
“It’s the thought that counts.”

Happy New Year!

December 31, 2021

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Merry Christmas!

Micah

The prophet Micah foretells the fall
of the corrupt and faithless elite of Jerusalem;
the fall and revival of the Kingdom of Judah;
the Messiah’s birth in the town of Bethlehem.

Because of Bethlehem, we honor Micah.
We are mindful that the great and good
often come from out of nowhere
and not from the gilded houses of the world.

Born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth
by ordinary folk Mary and Joseph,
Jesus came from out of nowhere
to shock the world into the Common Era.

Christmas Day 2021

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I am writing a series of poems about my parents, Bud and Mary Baldwin, and how they interacted with me and my three sisters. I am the second oldest in the family. Both my parents were alcoholics. Mother was treated in 1974-75 and was dry for the last 29 years of her life. My father never admitted he had a problem.

The first poem describes my Mother’s blackouts from her drinking. She was not a heavy drinker, but even a small amount of alcohol affected her. The year is 1965.

The second poem is 1985 after my father’s death.

The Blackouts

She wasn’t a Joe Sixpack drinker
consuming alcohol with gusto
or quietly sipping bourbon or wine
or both at all hours
like my dad.
One martini and she was off balance.

One drink was all it took
to spring the hatch suppressing
every childhood resentment
or marital grievance
or parental dissatisfaction,
and come the morning
claim not to remember anything!

Joe Anonymous remembered enough
of his drunken escapades and abuses
to enliven the AA meetings.
Not Mother.

Because of her rages,
Mother owned all the bandwidth
in the family,
and it was up to us
to brainstorm strategies
for outfoxing peevishness
and sidestepping pyroclastic vitriol.

Public and Private Drinking

There was a public side
to Dad’s drinking.
The martini was his favorite
as he arrived home from the office.
He had a leather martini travel kit
for the times he was on the road.
Jim Beam on ice
was his after-dinner drink
for his arguments with Mother
or when he retreated
to his ham radio sanctuary.
He had an increased appreciation
for white wine after his retirement.

All that was in public.
But there was another side,
a private side.
After he died and the family
cleaned out his desk and cabinets,
they found liquor squirreled away.
Medicine bottles were resurrected
as containers for vodka and gin.
At work, he drank at lunch.
Who knows? He may have had
a secret stash at the office, too.

He was under stress at home
and at the office
constantly.
Alcohol sanded down                     
the sharp edges of consciousness.

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These are lyrics to be sung during Holy Communion.

Breaking the Consecrated Bread                      

The raptor rises on wings of the present and past.
Warm thermals lift these wings of time.

One wing is all of us in this sacred place.
The other bears the souls of every age.

We fold the Common Era into a single day.
Time slows to a stop with the bread and cup.

And now we eat this bread and drink this cup.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

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Here is a poem I wrote yesterday about how I heard and appreciated Black music for the first time. The year was 1955. I was 12 years old.

All My Music Was White

All my music was white
growing up in the Baldwin household.
I was playing Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony

all by myself at age six—
with its five 78 RPM records
covering the full 45 minutes.

All the music at Oneonta Elementary
was white, too, including “Dixie,”
which I loved to sing

at the top of my soprano voice.
All the anthems in church
were safely mainline Protestant.

Sometimes we sang a Negro spiritual,
but we only sounded like white folks
pretending to be a real gospel choir.

All my music was white
before the move to San Marino.
I joined Huntington School

in the middle of the seventh grade
and fell in with a crowd of boys
who introduced me to Black music.

When school let out,
we wandered over to the record shop
on Huntington Drive

to pick through the records.
The tiny sound booth in the back
let us listen through headphones.

All this time, we are talking about
the best in Black music,
and where you could find it

on the L.A. radio dial.
I still listened to top-40 KPOP,
but was quite taken

with the blues for a while.
Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have To Go”
opened up a whole new world

far beyond “That Doggie in the Window,”
“Mr. Sandman,” and “The Happy Wanderer.”
There was nothing lighthearted

about the blues.
There was real pain
articulated by real people,

downtrodden people,
living in a world
where all the music is white.

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I wrote this poem in 1991 for a friend of mine at the Boeing Company. He was suffering from bone cancer and I was able to finish it a week before he died. His girlfriend read it at his memorial service.

Bill Morehead

The sacred sea defines
our summed collective soul.

Our infinite designs
are in the sea’s control.

We scarcely understand
our fundamental start.

We cannot comprehend
the sum of every part.

As the æons come and go,
its silent flow and blend
is all we ever know;
but now we feel the wind.

A molecule of water
that skims the sacred sea
and breathes corporeal air
resembles you and me.

As soon as we are tossed
about the nurturing foam,
this flesh, from found to lost,
obscures our natural home
in such a pleasing way
we lose the cosmic sweep
of comely, sunborne spray
rounded by the deep.

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Born With an Inclination

I believe I was born
with an innate inclination
to believe in God.

The Baldwin children had the option
to form their own opinions.
For that, we are grateful.

Dad was studiously noncommittal.
He may have been a member in good standing
in the First Agnostic Community Church.

Mother professed a preference
for the dreamy atmospherics
of Christian piety.

Yes, we attended church,
but there were no devotions
or grace at meals.

We kept a secular house.
No one told me to believe in God.
I figured that out on my own.


Thanksgiving Day 2021

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Last Sunday After Pentecost: Christ the King

  • 2 Samuel 23:1-7
  • Psalm 132:1-13
  • Revelation 1:4b-8
  • John 18:33-37

Year B Readings:

[tanka]

old friends part:
they promise to meet again
some day…
each knows
this is the last time

November 21, 2021

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