November 18, 1978

April is National Poetry Month. Today is a not so gentle reminder of why we should not forget out past. So I won’t end with “Enjoy!” as I usually do. This time I’ll say “Remember!”

November 18, 1978

Morning dawns anew upon a utopia time
A place filled with fluffy white cloud skies
No poverty or hunger or the slightest crime
Where no one ever hurts and no one ever cries

A special place where all can belong
Where God is followed and faith so strong

Built on the words of a charming teacher
Very few noticed beneath the sheen
Of the dashing, dark-haired preacher
Was the susurrus of something mean

A ‘Peoples Temple’ built for equality, tranquility
Headed by a monster of no comparability

But just as all seems right in the dawn
Utopia shatters and blood falls like rain
Sweet cyanide sips are over 900 gone
Bodies die writhing and screaming in pain

In the end the ugly truth is passed
among all the dead bodies amassed

Many simply drank if their faith was true
Or were met with murderous fusillade
But why did the babies have to die to
In the service of this monster’s façade?

Some survived to find their own truth
Forever scarred by the ashes of youth

All they wanted was an earthly paradise
With races coexisting side by side
Who could have ever known the price
Would be one of genocide

Nearly forgotten shadows of a madman’s fate
Jonestown, November 18, 1978

Jonestown massacre 1978
[Bodies at the Jonestown compound under a sign that reads:
‘Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it’]

In case some forgot, never heard of, or were not old enough to know about, the Rev. Jim Jones and the horror of what happened in Jonestown, Guyana, November of 1978, don’t worry; man definitely finds a way of letting bad history repeat. David Koresh and the Branch Davidian massacre in Waco, Texas, was twenty years ago in 1993. If you don’t know/remember either event, tick…tick…tick….

dVerse ~ Poets Pub | Meeting the Bar: The Unfathomable

26 thoughts on “November 18, 1978

  1. I remember both of those events. It’s too bad that so many people feel unable to navigate life without an extra set of rules to cover every eventuality. It’s also unfortunate that they feel the need to worship another human being in that way. By the way, wasn’t Nichelle Nichols’ brother one of those who died at Jonestown?

    • I don’t know about Ms. Nichols’ brother; I just remember the overall tragedy. There aren’t enough rules to cover every eventuality. You can’t create a rule for something you can’t imagine happening. When you’re speaking of the freedom of religious expression, when does a “rule” cross the line to being oppression? Who decides? By the time such a decision is made, it generally has reached this boiling point to be a springboard for such events as Jonestown and Waco..

  2. There was a case in India at least 50 years ago which developed into a tragedy – for the leader at least, due to a different kind of oppression. There were many married couples living at the community, and the leader (name long forgotten) demanded that the wives sleep with him. This evidently did not bother the husbands, whose belief in the leader’s wisdom caused them not to object, until the leader demanded that the wives sleep ONLY with him! It was at this point that the husbands banded together and did away with him.

  3. I was five at the time so this event is burned into my childhood. The horror seeped into my understanding of the world and likely shaped my questioning nature. Poetry helps us to never forget and in some way to begin to understand the why of tragedy.

    • I was in my teens, I remember the shock of it all clearly. Some tragedies my head can comprehend the what happened, but my heart will never really understand the how it could.

  4. A powerful message, lest we forget; a perfect blend of verse & history, excellent answer to the dVerse challenge. Like Waco & David Koresh, these tragedies haunt us forever.

    • Thank you, Glenn. Unfortunately, tragedies tend to only haunt those who were there at the time. To most born within the past twenty years, only 9/11 is real to them. The rest is just something in a history book.

  5. Oh I completely remember the People’s Temple. Your writing was excellent and the verse structure was great – it almost had the (intended) effect of becoming a lesson. Brilliant.

  6. I remember this as well. A few years ago, I saw a documentary about it as well. What I never knew was that if you didn’t drink, then you were just injected with poison. I think that you wrote about it sensitively and in a way that makes me want to discuss it further. It was so easy for him to take advantage of people who were vulnerable. As always, an excellent write, Raivenne.

    • Thank you Katy. I remember watching the news and the graphic images of the aftermath. I was unsettled for days at the thought of what it must have been like for those in the midst of it.

  7. I was a little too young to remember, but I have read and watched documentaries about the Jonestown deaths, and I think you’ve done a great job of capturing how a search for utopia ended in a dystopian nightmare. Regarding the Branch Davidians in Waco, weren’t they killed by the state (too much flammable gas inserted into the building by tanks)?

    • Thanks Rowan. There were/are still conflicting accounts of the hows and whys of the fire during the assault when the Feds attempted to take over the compound after the over a month long siege.

      I mention Branch Davidian in the footer only as another example of how a religion/cult gone can go wrong when belief is put more in the man and not in the faith itself.

  8. Well said, Raivenne. This situation was, to me, one of the most disturbing things to happen in my lifetime. I am amazed, not only at the evil of men like Jones, but by the fact people follow them.

    • “I am amazed, not only at the evil of men like Jones, but by the fact people follow them.”

      For years that was my question for both Jones and Koresh. When Waco happened I remember asking my mother if we as a people had learned nothing from Jonestown.

      Thanks Charles.

      • Amazingly, similar situations are still going on today. Very sad. But, when you look back at history, it’s been going on since the beginning of time.

  9. The lonely, the vulnerable, those hoping for something better – all too willing followers of those who sell a dream of utopia – in this life or the next…

    Well written Raivenne


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