vasyl helevychuk copy
Baptized at the Creek
by Shutta Crum

All us kids stood—wide-eyed. Cousin Billy
stuck his thumb in his mouth, as they laid Aunt Gertie backward
under the brown waters of the creek.

Right then and there, sacredness came floating ‘round us.
The holler got so warm and holy I could hardly breathe.
I reached out and squeezed Sissy’s hand.

Aunts and uncles, standing witness, shouted Hallelujah!
and raised their arms to heaven. Billy peed on a tree.
We giggled. Uncle Winn snagged him with his arm.
Grandpa prayed.
Praise the Lord!

When they helped Aunt Gertie up the bank of the creek
her clothes clung sopping over her rounder parts,
the way honey clings to a biscuit. I tried not to look.

We ate corn bread, fried chicken, green beans and ham hocks,
homemade rolls, canned peaches, and Grandma’s pies.
Billy wiggled, corralled between Uncle Winn and Grandpa.

Cousin Louann played the guitar. Her boyfriend, the harmonica.
Sissy swung Billy round & round. Aunt Dixie and Uncle Walter Lee sang—
their mournful voices rising and then swooping deep, flowing into us.
Praise the Lord!

Later, in the cool dew-fall hour we went back to the creek.
We chased fireflies and threw stones into the water. Too dark to see
the ripples widen. But we knew they lapped ashore
—washing away our sins.

Previously published in Typehouse Literary Magazine, Issue 23.

Photo by Vasyl Helevachuk.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My southern extended family included several ministers and deacons of the church. We had our own cemetery up on the mountainside. I’ve witnessed many baptisms in the creek that flows past the home of my grandparents. What remains, after all these years, is the sense of family closeness. This poem, about one of them, illustrates that we weren’t all angels, as Billy in the poem suggests. But we were all loved.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shutta Crum’s poetry has been published since the 1970s. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Acumen, Mom Egg Review, Calyx, and Boulevard. Her chapbook When You Get Here won a gold Royal Palm Literary Award. Her second collection The Way to the River came out in 2022. A Pushcart nominee, she is also the author of 13 picture books and three novels for younger readers including, Thunder-Boomer! (Clarion/HMH) a Smithsonian Magazine and an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year. For more information, or to subscribe to her monthly newsletter the Wordsmith’s Playground, visit