Carry On: A poem for Jim Baldridge
Jim Baldridge, holding the flag in the center, marches with a Vietnam Veterans Against the War contingent at a demonstration in Washington, D.C. opposing the war in Afghanistan, Dec. 16, 2010. | Vetspeak

Memories are our footprints on Earth: On the passing of an activist

Recently the progressive movement lost Jim Baldridge, whose death summoned forth the following poetic commentary by a friend who remembered and loved him well.

Like everyone else, activists too come to the end of our time on Earth. Those who are left to mourn seek comfort where they can find it, perhaps most of all in acknowledging lasting influences, enduring institutions, indelible traces of the lost loved one.

Human beings seem almost hardwired to think about our after-life. Some may think in terms of Heaven or Hell, of judgment and reward. But more and more Americans don’t literally believe in such concepts, which appear to them as unfounded mysticism. As a writer who often takes on topics of faith and belief, I might say that for the most part, we don’t usually think in such eternal, cosmic ways. More generally, it seems to me, we are concerned with the families and children whom we leave behind, and with the hope that at least some of the good work we tried to do during this short passage on Earth will go on in other people’s capable hands.

Artists and writers always have their work that they imagine will continue to inspire future generations. Activists find some peace in knowing that they saved some lives, fed some of our too many hungry, clothed the naked, put a roof over the homeless wanderer, that they contributed to the great stream of human advancement that in fits and starts has brought more dignity to life over the many millennia since we became sentient beings. 

We publish this poem knowing that our readers will bring to mind not just Jim Baldridge, to whom it is addressed, but all those we remember in the struggle for a better world. And it may also get us thinking about how we want to be remembered by those who come after.

Yes, life has its solemn times. Remembering our loved ones can be such a time, while also serving to realign our priorities for such years as we may have ahead.

— Eric A. Gordon, People’s World Culture Editor 

Carry On

For Jim Baldridge (1946-2017)

  1. Show the priests the door,
    Clear the air
    Of rumors and ghosts,
    Let the judged stand naked,
    Without excuses.Let a life stand on its own,
    Free of the need for salvation.Let forgiveness apply to our real sins
    And not the universal condition.Let the stinking corpse of the capitalist system
    Rot for eternity, without history’s redemption.
  1. What is the price of sin
    If all are forgiven?
    What is the fate of humanity
    If absolution comes in a drop of water?
  1. Every day we live our lives
    In the path of others.
    Evil is not metaphysical
    And love is not an apparition.
    It is what we do
    Or how we live.
    This is the human imperative:
    We are our brother’s keeper
    Or we are not.
    This is our test,
    Salvation lying in the balance.
  1. Memories are our footprints on Earth,
    Passed down by
    Family and friends
    In word or sometimes in song.
    When we are gone,
    The world is better
    Or sometimes worse
    For what we have done or not done.
    We will be judged
    On the brightest day
    By eyes without blinders,
    Eyes without pity or remorse.
  1. We are judged by others
    Every day of our lives.
    How have we lived?
    Was it for me
    Or for you?
    That is the human test:
    How to define fulfillment
    When our needs are overwhelmed
    By the needs of others?
  1. When his breath stopped,
    We were two hours away.
    His life took on an importance of its own,
    Leaped off his death bed
    Into the world,
    Laying markers for the living to follow.
    Let the hypocrites
    And purveyors of greed
    Tremble with fear.
    Prayers will not save them
    In the world that is coming.
    His children and comrades
    Will carry on his life,
    Carry on, Carry on.

– Les Bayless



Les Bayless
Les Bayless

Les Bayless is a long-time activist, blues lover and sports fan living in Baltimore.