Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Monday, December 20, 2004

Baptism (March 2003)

A low voice crooned in his ear:
a bittersweet song it was, passing-sweet,
-- Fiona McLeod, “The Washer of the Ford”

At 13 I was baptized in the Atlantic
off Melbourne Beach by pentacostals,
an occasion which was strangely
perfect in its timing. Months earlier
I’d been given a tract which showed
the hells of sin: a blue novella of once-

good people deceived by pleasure into
grave of boozy sex and all the fanged
conceits which fork there, ending up
in the halls of pitch and apostate ire.
It scared the Bejezus into me just when
I was ready at last for the world: puberty

had just slammed its flaming wreck into
me, adding three inches of height, burning
off my childhood fat, curling out a brimstone
beard pubic hairs, lowering my voice a
gravelly half-octave.Poised at last for the
eternal pleasures of youth, their infernal

consequences bared their canines wide,
revealing an endless maw. Terrified of
punishment I fell on my knees and gave
myself to the God of the group who’d
passed the track. It was with these people
that I now drove out to Melbourne Beach

on a warm morning in early June, two months
from my 14th birthday. We sang Christian
songs in that packed station wagon, the windows
rolled to a predawn lurid Florida smelling of
citrus, death, and the sea. I was flanked by two
virginal girls, a chaste inch between our bathing

suited bottoms, literally just enough to spare
the devil’s bray. Still, when the car rolled over
a dead mole or ‘dillo, the jot caused the left girl’s
left breast to bounce against my arm, and
the chorus in the car turned to a drone while
I felt that deeper music thrum, the hard rock

of rages which was all thirst, all sweet, all
consummation. Parked on the beach at last
we exploded from the car like colts, sprinting
in joy toward a surf which curled and broke
in the glass of first light. Somehow I managed
to leap and come down on the very spot where

some manowars were buried, leeching my soles
in ocean fire. For an hour while the others romped
and bodysurfed I lay on a picnic table in pure
agony. I prayed God forgive me for the imp inside
me and gave thanks that I didn’t have the chance
fall further in that surf. When I was well enough

to walk, I was led to the surf where the service
began — standing waist high in cerulean, warm
surf with the sun just up from the east, still red
with first birth, the pastor next to me with eyes
shut tight, praying in tongues and then shifting
to English to say God bless this new son. He then
he tipped me back into the water and held me there —

only for a second or so — but while I was under
a cleansing wave passed over and through me, calm
and eternal and silently true. To this day, I swear
it was one of the closest moments I’ve had with God.
Or gods, since the wave passed under me as well,
washing me of every wrong and blessing of my darkest,

deepest joys — angel and imp, agape and eros, spirit
and soul married in that douse which washed through
and then passed and I was hauled back up spluttering
while the others clapped and praised God. The sun
continued to climb in the sky, hot and beckoning,
as the rollers sprawled in again and again and again,

curving and smashing and hauling back our blent blood,
waxing and ebbing, cleansing us in the sea’s feral mud.


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