Morphine Messiah: My Own Holy Book

by Jolene McDonald

(Jolene McDonald is an admin of the Facebook group Jim Jones Cult Leader created in February 2018, and the creator of a blog – the Jim Jones Information Blog – to share some of the informative posts from the group. The posts from the blog also appear here. Her collected works on this site are here. She may be reached at

(Morphine Messiah is her first collection of poetry on the subject of Jim Jones. Published in 2020, the book is available by writing to the author.)

My idea to publish a book about Jim Jones started in April 2018. At the time, I was unsure what the content would be. Fifteen months later, I had written over a hundred poems about him, which made my decision on the book’s format an obvious one. Forty seven of them would end up in the book, to represent the age he died. I knew it was a worthwhile project despite warnings it could be controversial to some people and received negatively. Actually, that has not been the case because the response and feedback has been positive so far. Although the people of the Temple and Jonestown and the events that took place are featured, Jim himself was the biggest inspiration for my book and the countless poems since then. The main focus is on him. I made sure his mind, body, heart and soul would be in there. Experiences and passion for him drove me to complete it. I wanted to share my work as a contribution to his memory, but also as a personal goal. On 14 February 2020, I published the collection titled Morphine Messiah: Hymns for Jim Jones. The references are to one of the many drugs he became addicted to and his status as a godlike leader; the combination of those things were both power and weakness for him.

I refer to my work as poetry or poems because it’s easier for readers to relate to and understand, but I think of them as hymns. My original thought was for the collection to be Poems for Jim Jones, but “poems” felt wrong somehow, like something was missing. Using that description with nothing else added wouldn’t quite capture the overall vibe and presentation.

Then I realised what I needed to present them more accurately: The book is reminiscent of a Bible. How it is set out reminds me of verses in a hymn pamphlet. “Hymns” is also appropriate for the religious themes. I chose a simple cover which is ghost white, church-like and clinical. A heart entwined around a cross appears on the cover and throughout, a constant symbol of the sacred feeling and love that wraps itself around everything. Hymns for Jim Jones flows from the Morphine Messiah title and is appropriate for what I’m trying to get across.

In Morphine Messiah, there is a lot of focus on death. Some poems are about the November 1978 tragedy itself. For example, “Rite to Die”:

rite to die
shrine for the fearless
premonition of an ocean grave
anticipating the deadly vices
taking control
on a supernatural day

cathedral bouquet all over the walls
sanctuary of the damned
we love our plans
we love the message
we love this man

in his holiday home
no beach, no water, no celebration
only burnt offerings and grape flavour

tape recorder, speech to die for
voice like a thousand firing squads
at the end of time

all the other voices whisper
then silence becomes a blur
with the noise of the birds

cyanide, sigh and hide
the music of this resort
sounds so strange tonight

Apart from that side of things, I wanted to include as many aspects of Jim’s life as possible, both on the surface and on a deeper level. Many references are obvious and easy to understand, but to understand other areas, you will need some knowledge of Jim’s life. I name-check every place he spent time in, including the lesser-known Brazil years and return to Indiana in the early 1960s. “Brazil Being” covers it:

statue of Jesus
welcomed into the nuclear light
of another country
embraced but missed
the congregation fades in his absence
slowly descending
before his return to the old existence
melts religion’s frost
like a preview sun

His style and appearance are mentioned several times and are part of the surface references. Then there is a look into his personality and mind, his pain and torment. As well as the physical aspect and Jim as a person, there is spirituality. That spiritual feeling and personal connection is acknowledged in several poems and went into the making of the whole book.

Some people have asked for clarification on a reference or meaning that they cannot pick up on, and I am certainly open to discuss these poems with anyone. “Guyana Love Song,” for example, is one which has already caused confusion. Addiction is a common theme throughout the book, so I can confirm that poem is one of many takes on Jim’s battle with drugs:

French blue shirt
hearts, roses, heaven dust
healed by glory, heeled on glory

old honeymoon
suffocating in the backtrack of addiction
author of his own prescription

dry the tears with tropical petals
prepare the artillery
clean the veins carefully
arrange his emergency gun

angel’s embalming fluid, sparkling
remembering L.A.

Precious stones have been a prominent part of my art and writing about Jim, so some of the titles have jewel symbolism. One example is “Citrine Church,” which gives credit to his captivating charm and allure:

liquid valium
glitter charisma
a sunlight ingested breathing monument
of words and wisdom

glowing yellow
sweet silk glory
like a citrine beacon
illuminating the veneration chapel
all the way to utopia

saturated satellites
of a golden spherical heaven
connecting every inch of beauty
with the stars in flames

One titled “Valentine” is a reference to a particular piece of Jonestown footage; Jim dancing with a snake on the pavilion in February 1978. It was not recorded on Valentine’s Day itself, but it was Valentine month, so I refer to that footage as the Valentine video. He is wearing a dark blue shirt and smiling at the camera, clearly enjoying himself. At one point he removes his sunglasses. I put myself in that moment, seeing him up close:

February, valentine month
holding a snake
symbol of lust

indigo in the shadows
midnight pavilion dancing
raven erotic
laughing like domination
valentine in blue

A couple of people purchased Morphine Messiah out of curiosity, but many others have a genuine interest in the subject and my work. I think every person takes away something different. Examples include someone who said they prefer the darkest aspects, like death, violence, destruction, even a little dark humour. Another person said the mysterious parts are intriguing and stand out to them. Another likes the emotion. Another said they like the physical aspect and descriptions of Jim. I am interested in knowing what affects or interests each reader.

I show what the man is remembered for, the tragedy and darkness, his legacy as a cult leader, but there had to be more to my book than that, because he is more than those actions. Spiritual hints can be seen along the way, but the final three poems capture a deep connection and spirituality most of all. They make a point of expressing that Jim is now free from his life and everyone he knew on earth. Death is the greatest freedom for him.

Morphine Messiah is one piece of a large jigsaw of writing on my Jim Jones journey. I hope this contribution and everything else I write speaks on many levels; with the words, and with any vibes or feelings when you read it. I don’t expect every reader to connect deeply, but I hope they can pick up on something, an energy or spark, to somehow appreciate how far the words travel.

 * * * * *

Not long before publication, I unsurprisingly saw Jim in a dream. He appeared as he did on the final day, but he wasn’t in Jonestown. Sitting on a bench by a calm lake, he was reading a copy – an advance copy, I suppose – of the book. The sun was in his eyes, lighting up his fiery red shirt. I joined him on the bench. He remarked that my words kept changing – most definitely a reference to a few edits I made over the months. He described the whole volume as thrilling, stating very clearly one of his favourites… “Emerald Garden”:

holding hands
in the emerald garden
Garden of Eden
starlight and sin

violence is a virtue
in paradise

Originally posted on October 2nd, 2020.

Last modified on September 22nd, 2022.
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