I was three years old when “Jonestown happened.” That is to say, Peoples Temple planted itself in my imagination before I was old enough to know it as more than “Jonestown” or as a singular event. That is also to say that Marrow began in my imagination. And here I should point out that my imagination was shaped by the narrative illustrated in magazine photo essays. Narratives are generally formed in the shape of an intentional idea, which is to tell you that my imagination was in the shape of that general idea. Jonestown. An event. The end.
Marrow reimagines Peoples Temple. That is to say two things: it has been imagined before (re), and it lives as much in fact as it does in ideas and images (imagine) formed sometimes in the shape of fact, sometimes not. Which is to tell you that I did not come to Marrow as a historian.
Nonetheless, I should tell you that I am a student of history. When I was an undergraduate, the chair of the history department invited me to the major because I was such a serious student. I declined. I was going to be a writer and would be declaring English as my major.
I share this account to underscore what happened next on my way to Marrow. I am the creative writer I aspired to become and a visual artist. That is to say, I am one compelled by images.
When I remember Peoples Temple, I remember the pictures spread conspicuously carelessly across the coffee table as was the fashion of the time. I remember black people, so I related fairly quickly, spread conspicuously carelessly on the ground, dead. They looked like people I knew. The first poem I wrote for what would become Marrow was an ekphrasis of a photo of siblings Shanda and Ronnie James, who reminded me of my parents at that time—afro’d head to cornrowed head, grinning.
Those bodies looked like they could have belonged to people who may have been part of the working class community where I was steeped in the black Protestant Christian tradition—emphasis on black; emphasis on Christian. As I grew up, I also wanted more emphasis on the protest of the Protestant part. I craved a social justice spirituality that would’ve resembled the ideal of Peoples Temple.
Which all illustrates the collision of my own histories that is Marrow. And perhaps implicates readers into recognizing their personal and collective histories in Peoples Temple. Which is to say, I did not happen; this work did not happen; Peoples Temple did not happen in a vacuum.
Chosen as part of the New Poetry and Prose series, Marrow is forthcoming in 2021 from University Press of Kentucky.
(Poet darlene anita scott is a regular contributor to the jonestown report. Her other article for this edition is White Nights, Black Paradise: A Meditation On Hunger. Her complete collection of writings and poetry for this site may be found here. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)