As is customary for a self-respecting writing major, I entered Wheaton's Lowell-Grabel creative writing contest. This year's judge was Wheaton alumna and religion journalist Cathleen Falsani, whose book Sin Boldly I read recently and whose blog I have found well worth stalking. She was beyond encouraging at the awards ceremony.
Duke was awarded first place in creative nonfiction and third place in fiction. I was awarded second place in creative nonfiction and -- get this -- first place in poetry.
Yeah. Poetry. I know.
The poem is about when my family joined Highland Terrace when I was 14 and sulky.
One Baptism: A Sestina
I was baptized in the name
of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
with my father, mother and brother
by a preacher dressed like a fisherman
to keep himself from getting wet.
I was dunked into the heated baptistery
lit by a stained glass dove glowing neon above the baptistery.
The preacher, the Brother, often forgot my name
and, whether because we were related by Spirit
or just out of habit, called me Brother,
forgetting not every Baptist is a man.
He himself refused to get wet,
guarded against getting wet
by wearing rubber pants in the baptistery
under the neon stained glass dove named
(or just symbolic of) the Holy Spirit.
I do not remember how my brother
felt about this preacher, this man
who wanted my dad baptized as a man
because getting his baby head sprinkled wet
by Methodists didn’t count. The chlorinated baptistery,
heated from below and lit from above, named
us as church-members. The spirit
of the thing was lost on my soggy little brother
and my skeptical self. I acknowledge one brother
(who now is grown, practically a man)
as mine, not this preacher, wet
with sweat and sermon spit -- not baptistery
water -- from getting carried away in the Lord’s name,
and I am certainly not his brother, even in spirit.
Was it the same neon stained dove Spirit
shining over my parents and brother
and me who hovered over God-made-Man,
the Man who volunteered to get wet
in his cousin’s muddy makeshift baptistery,
cold with slime and fish, and heard his name?
This brother-man in the baptistery would not get wet, even in the name of the spirit.
*Blade and Steve should be given some of this credit, since they have endured more than their share of Duke's and my rough drafts.