Saturday, 12 March 2011

'Baptism: The Good Fathers' by Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I was reminded of this incredible poem, that never fails to move me, by a friend's wonderful post, entitled 'Be your own man'

by Dr. C.P. Estés

Our bodies painted red by the dawn sky,
our hair stuck up in cockscombs from sleeping,
we two snuck down to the rowboats.

We wobbled across the lake toward the lily ponds
to gather blooms for our mothers. What a big boy!
What a big girl! they would exclaim upon our return.

We tugged up the white blush flowers with roots so long,
till the bottom of our boat was filled to the bow.
And as we turned toward home the rain began.
Then fog threw back its hood and roared; and we rowed.
The waves turned black, and we rowed.

We lost first one oar and then the other; and we cried out.
Our thin night clothes stamped with cowboys and stars
went transparent like tattoos
all over our pale blue bodies,
and we cried out, Mother! Father! God! Help us!

Death put its hands over our eyes, and suddenly the fog
was pierced. Leaping and bucking came
a battered wooden boat filled with four phantoms,
rowing and rowing like madmen,
their faces distorted by rain and rage, eight oars
slugging the roiling waters over and over,
and they were calling out our names, bellowing
over the storm, Hold on! Hold on! We are coming for

Vessel crashed into vessel, and big wet hands flailed
till two huge wraiths of the lake rolled into our boat.
They hooked oars into iron stocks, tethered the boats,
and we crouched beneath the phantom rowers’ arms
as they rowed and rowed, cursing words we did not know,
as they rowed through the heavy drapes of rain and noise,
and with every hit of swash, lilies spewed overboard,
floating and drowning in the spume behind us.

And when at last our vessels ran into the soft slough,
and the rain went sideways,
the gray-faced phantoms grabbed us up, snagging
long ropey roots and green-heart leaves
and dangling white lilies as well.

With us in arms they strove up the howling hill,
holding us hard against their bony breasts,
shielding our faces with their hands.

And then finally, in the sudden heat from the open cabin door,
they bowed their heads like horses, offering us
held out like armfuls of heavy wild bouquets,
– two trembling children covered with broken flowers –
delivered into the arms of the weeping women.

When I dream of that time so long ago,
though in years intervening,
there would be at least one long year
of silence, one of forgetfulness, and
one of forgiveness, even so — in that one despond
of fog and rain and waves, these flares remain lit:

the men
who rowed the boat;
the men
who climbed the hill;
the men
who carried us toward home …
the uncles, the brothers, the fathers…
who despite their imperfections,
did not forsake The Heart of God –
that is, a child stranded in the storm –
these souls, all of them, now anointed forever
with the waters from all the tempests
they have braved,
now anointed forever
by the fragrance of the wild lilies
they have, with great effort,
carried up from out of the dark …

“Baptism: The Good Fathers”, © 1990, 2010, All rights reserved. Dr. C.P. Estés, poem from La Pasionaria: Collected Poems of Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés: A Manifesto on The Creative Fire. This particular work may be used non-commercially as long as it is kept entirely intact, not added to nor taken from, and this complete notice including usage, author’s name and copyright notice are clearly printed upon it. Other permissions


  1. Did you read this poem for Celtic Church one Sunday? It feels like an old friend.

  2. You're right - well-remembered! An old friend indeed, old friend! :-)