It used to be more private—just the
immediate family gathered after mass,
the baptismal font at the rear
of the church tiny as a bird bath.
The priest would ladle a few teaspoons’
tepid holy water on the bundled baby’s
forehead, make a crack about the halo
being too tight as the new soul wailed.
We’d go home to pancakes and eggs.
These days it’s a big Holy-wood production—
midmass, the giant altar rolls back to reveal
a Jacuzzi tub surrounded by potted palms.
The priest hikes up his chasuble, steps
barefoot out of his black leather loafers
and wades in like a newfangled John as
organ music swells and the baby-bearing families
line up like jumbo jets ready for takeoff.
But when the godparents handed my niece’s newborn
naked to their parish priest, and he dunked her
into the Jacuzzi’s bath-warm holy water,
her little one grew so calm and blissful she
pooped—not a smelly three-days’ worth, explosive
diaper load, but enough to notice. As the godparents
scooped the turds with a handkerchief,
the savvy priest pretended he hadn’t seen,
swept through the fouled water with his palm
before the next baby in line was submerged.
After mass, my niece sat speechless,
red-faced, not knowing what to say—
or whether—as church ladies, friends, and
family members presented one by one to
the tub where the babies had been
baptized. As they knelt and bowed
and dipped their fingers in,
and blessed themselves.