On Mount Wilson

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.

Christmas 1958. Grandfather shares a happy moment with his grandchildren.

Contact info: www.davebaldwin37@gmail.com

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The Drifters

Their lyrics sealed the promise
of August of ’59,
There goes my baby
movin’ on down the line.

I had a brown-eyed sweetheart
when I was seventeen.
Our worlds were far apart
and the Drifters fell between.

The mournful whine is silent;
the booming drum is dead;
the song has lost its power
except inside my head.

Would I be very different
from others turning gray
who marry good companions
and never rue the day

when I riffle through my files
where the dead events belong
and turn aside discretely
to touch a treasured song?

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Owl Love

Sometimes on my morning run,
I hear the call and response
of two owls.
They move around,
never in the same place twice,
but I know who they are
because the smaller of the two
is one white note higher
on the keyboard,
and each has a pitch
always the same.
No one owl initiates the call
every time.
They take turns.
The 2-hoot call is followed
by a two-Mississippi wait
for the 2-hoot response,
then they take 15 seconds
to think about it
before the next exchange.
I imagine both
are saying the same thing:
“I am yours.
I am here for you.”

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pan-fried trout
I learn something new
about my father

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The Plumb Line

Amos 7:7-17

With a plumb-line, the wall of Israel was erected
with closely-fitted, well-joined stones.
These perpendicular stones were the very bones
of a great nation, but a careless people neglected
their promise to the Lord. They failed to stay the ruin.
And now the Lord is holding a line and plummet
against the wall. It is used for building up;
the line is also used for tearing down
as the demolition crew decides how much to raze.
The Lord bears long, but the Lord won’t bear forever.
The herdsman Amos foretells the coming days
of desolation for an errant nation who lost its way.
The bowing, bulging wall is put to the measure;
by the sword of justice, the edifice is swept away.

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The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

I’m feeling special standing in the temple.
I’m such a sight to see!
I lift my words to you my Lord.
Behold: take a look at me!

Indeed, I have risen above the rest.
Lord, you know it’s true.
Unlike these fools, I mind your rules.
My bearing says, “Better than you.”


Better than you,
better than you.
Lord knows
he’s better than you.

Who needs to ask? I tithe and fast.
My piety’s beyond compare.
It makes me proud to show the crowd
how to strike a righteous air.

My public look is by the book.
My face is pale and wan
and I raise my hands at the proper times.
I show the people how it’s done.


Better than you,
better than you.
Lord knows
he’s better than you.

The temple is blessed to witness the best;
it’s all about the show.
I’ll close my hour on the temple floor
with this, a truly grateful prayer:

Thank you, Lord, that I am spared
from living a life of sin
like that tax collector over there
and all the others in this room.


Better than you,
better than you.
Lord knows
he’s better than you.

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Lao Tzu Advises the Board of Directors

The best manager is a gracious guest in my house.
As host, I am pleased to do my best.
We both get what we want.

The best manager is hardly recognized.
Good results come naturally
and the workers say: we did it all ourselves.

The worst manager is known too well:
from below—resentment, hatred, fear;
from above—a ruthless rising star.

Results destroy the worst manager.
Until that day, how many broken lives
will litter the shop floor?

If managers have no further desire
than to embrace and protect, the workers
will have no further desire than to enter and serve.

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NOTE: From Bud and Mary. The year was 1956 when I was 14.

Friday Night Fights Every Night

The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports–Boxing
from Madison Square Garden
with the Look Sharp/Be Sharp theme song
and Jimmy Powers announcing
was a regular Friday night event
for Dad and me.

Dad never boxed himself,
but he loved the manly art,
the sweet science
as it was called.

I was fascinated
by the different styles of boxing:
the peek-a-boo face shield defense,
the flailing perpetual-windmill offense,
the powderpuff jab while backing away,
the lethal left cross,
the unexpected uppercut,
and the thunderous knockout right
when the victim drops his guard.

For entertainment,
the best matchups paired
the buzzsaw free swinger
against the cautious counterpuncher.
It was fun to watch.

But buzzsaw vs. counterpuncher
was no fun at all
when the parents squared off
later in the 1950s.
It was Friday Night Fights
every night of the week.

Mother was a free swinger,
always throwing the first punches,
launching one haymaker after another:
accusations of bad faith
and compromised loyalties.
Dad deflected the blows
with his annoying fact-checking,
his claims of innocence,
and by pointing out she needed help.

There was alcohol, always alcohol,
to juice the aggression.

In the olden days,
boxers used to fight
until only one was standing.
My parents fought and fought and fought
every night
and all they did
was hold each other up.

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She Loves You

The Kennedy assassination stunned the nation
like nothing else since the attack on Pearl Harbor.
We all remember what we were doing
when we heard the news.

What followed was six weeks of sorrow.
The grieving widow and her two small children.
The horse-drawn caisson to the Capitol.
The Requiem Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral.
Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby.
The endless documentaries on network TV.

This went on until the end of the year.
Six weeks of sustained sadness.
Six weeks of ruefulness!

I returned to the Berkeley campus in January
to finish my first semester classes.
I passed through Sather Gate
and entered the Student Union Building
where I met a deafening wall of noise.
The Beatles were singing on the sound system,
“She loves you YEAH YEAH YEAH.”
Everyone in the building was singing along with them
as outrageously as possible,
especially loud on the YEAH YEAH YEAH.

This was our release—
we were done with the enforced solemnity.

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Back Jackknife

for Bud Baldwin

His rigid arms are pointing down as he walks
the diver’s practiced pace toward the edge
and deftly spins around to set his feet.
The crowd grows quiet as he is on his toes,
to seek and find the pulse of limber steel.
With that assured, arms come up, palms flat
and facing down; knuckles nudge his gaze.

Silence snaps—he takes the backward leap,
exploding blind at forty-five degrees
(too high, you flop; too low and over you go),
and belly muscles pull his daggered toes
into a row of waiting fingertips
still reaching out directly from the chest.
He shuts the knife exactly at the apogee;

his body forms a tight, symmetrical V.
And just a blink beyond, he pops the knife.
The head flies back and arms in tandem follow
violently; so head, arms, and back design
a deadly blade to cut the water clean.
He nails the perfect dive. And slicing through
the bottom of the sky, he suns in blithe applause.

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the boy who came
to be my father
kissed her cheek
what did my face look like
before that happened?

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The Alpha and Omega of Gratitude

Giving thanks in your heart is the alpha of gratitude.
Gratitude is the sum of what you sense and say.
Remembering to offer your thanks is the omega of gratitude.

Longing for things you lack is a flawed attitude.
Always be thankful for what you have today.
Feeling grateful in your heart is the alpha of gratitude.

Do not devalue the goods you currently hold.
What you have today was only hoped for yesterday.
Remembering to offer your thanks is the omega of gratitude.

Lust for things puts you in an anxious mood.
You’ll find your happiness in the persons you most enjoy.
Giving thanks in your heart is the alpha of gratitude.

The lives of those you love will increase in magnitude
as you count your blessings and walk with them in the Way.
Remembering to offer your thanks is the omega of gratitude.

The ungrateful person is one who journeys in solitude.
Appreciation is the greatest kindness, far and away.
Giving thanks in your heart is the alpha of gratitude.
Remembering to offer your thanks is the omega of gratitude.

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a pinwheeling leaf
strikes the watercourse
and floats around the bend
gone forever
do you ever think of me?

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