The preacher pinches my nostrils between
thumb and forefinger, pushes me
backward, hard, into the chlorine sting
of the pool, its deep, still water immediately
closing in around me like a second flesh,
heavy and resolute. Once, then again,
I go under, the former self of my childhood
swimming away, an embryo in reverse.
The age of reason, against every obstacle,
has found me. I am old enough now,
my mother reminds me, to be held accountable,
old enough to suffer those unrelenting
flames through eternity, for lack of belief,
unintended blasphemy, or simple misunderstanding.
Far overhead, the sun blazes on, unblinking,
the world surrounding it seemingly turned
upside down, wheeling, tumbling,
while here below, sudden slashes of light
weave in and out of my periphery.
My instinct is to reach for it, to kick, flail,
break free from the grip that holds me;
my instinct is to save myself,
to simply not drown — as I feel I am —
whether by water, wine, or blood of sacred lamb.
Then, as if it were unexpected, I am pulled
back into the world, sputtering, gasping,
the welcome shock of oxygen like pinpricks
to the lungs, as if I had been running for miles,
my first steps back on land uncertain.
This world is not my home, they are singing,
so happy to only be passing through.
But I don’t know what could be better than
this — the earth that accepts us again
and again, sinners to the last, the one on which
our songs are written, the one that sings
them all back to us in return.
by Greg Watson
Editor’s Note: This poem introduces the reader to the idea of baptism via narrative imagery, but then pushes the boundaries of its common meaning into trauma memory and what it feels like to pass through that experience into the light.