The Song of the Unmarked Graves

(Laurie Efrein Kahalas is a regular contributor to the jonestown report. Her previous writings may be found here. She can be reached through

Once upon a time, so to speak, in what was then the urgent present, now just long ago, I had an epiphany: visions, premonitions, floods of words. It was 1974, four years prior to the shattering Jonestown Tragedy.

I was shown a gathering of our people — many of our people. It was a warm setting with lush foliage; yet isolated, guarded, in a gathering place; just before dusk and on the heels of killings that no one could recall (“slain men’s bones…. Hush, no recourse waits…“)

I saw Jim Jones leading his flock into death, mourning their “plunge one by one, towards the sea, ‘neath the foam…“ Some dying in peace, others in anguish, others in panic, others in fear, others in pride, others in tearful remembrance — the old, the young, weeping children….

The story of “Allegory,” my precognitive text about the tragedy, is recounted at “Premonitions” located at – which is archived on this site – and in my book, Snake Dance. Suffice it to say that it was/is an exact, detailed PRE-record of what happened.

I was freaked out for sure, but it was more. It was profoundly surreal; yet the tone of the text was not of terror — rather of compassion, grief infused with love, and with an especial heart wrench, “the song of the unmarked graves.”

In the poetic text, the first mention is in outrage: “I listen to the song of the unmarked graves, and my wrath knows no delay!” The second is in grieved acceptance: “I listened to the song of the unmarked graves, and turned not away!” The third is in post-death despair: “The song rises from a thousand unmarked graves, its strains filtering through thin dawn. Rasping — wrestling to expound in a dark, uncertain key, to express in wavering tones a dirge too low to justly grieve, a song too weak for too-wrong deaths! One voice rises higher than foul-decaying flesh, ’All power to thee!’ Yet where even spectres scarcely cry…’”

This was a group going down to not just physical doom, but worldwide scorn (“and though all men may revile your name… Now the vultures come… they pick, pluck, peck, tear at your flesh with cruel-eyed intent…”)

Yet what terrified me even more than the text was fear of the cult’s response — especially its volatile leader! Hardly an overreaction, as I soon enough learned.

Oh, I had tried to just tell Mr. Jones, along with the word “frightening.” I needed some private, protected response. But he just glowered at me like, was I mad? I still hoped against hope, but that hope was dimming.

Thus I gathered a tiny group for a trial reading. All I stated as an introduction was, “This work is about the death of Jim and many of our people.”

It took just days to get back to Jim Jones, and then suddenly there was hell to pay! No one asked how such a tragic-yet-luminous text (“Just like Shakespeare!” the person who turned me in said…) had manifested, just that it must be malignant fantasy. I was obviously “way out of line” — narcissistic, uncaring, just for writing poetry at all! I had to be castigated and ridiculed for it.

Oh, and it got worse. I guess Jim needed some lead time to concoct “reasons why she must want me dead.” (And what about “the other thousand” people? Not that I wanted ANYONE dead!)

By the time he had corralled the sadistic bullies amongst us into a lynch mob (one that had no reason to think that anything they were yelling was true!), I was painted as a manipulator, a liar, cold and unfeeling, disloyal, treacherous, demanding — I mean, whatever I had NEVER been in that group, suddenly that was what I supposedly WAS.

I had never asked anything for myself when I was in the church. And most certainly, I had never asked, much less demanded, anything of Jim Jones personally.

But that night, Cassandra was handed over to the dark side, so to speak. I was face-to-face with a man terrified of his own fate; yet (God knows how), the only person who seemed to know what that fate was, was me. Thus I “had to pay” with a brutal wrongful scapegoating. Maybe at least abject humiliation would “teach me a lesson.”

Well, it was a cruelly misguided “lesson,” nor was I the one needful of any “lesson” in the first place. I just needed, we all needed a leader who was not so terrified of his own fate, that he knee-jerked us collectively into an even worse fate.

But that said, I would say that us humans are here on Earth to be empowered, not disempowered, when our hearts are right, whatever the loss or pain. Thus I reclaim my voice upon finally consecrating the dead, so as to better confer dignity upon THE DECEASED.

Somehow (literally “God knows how”) I was given “Allegory” all those years back as AN ENTRUSTMENT. I would even be glad to offer it anonymously, for surely this was given on behalf of everyone. I’ve just been out-there too visibly for anonymity to be possible.

We are just (well, us humans) oftentimes too quick to judge and too slow to see what is right in our midst. We find even in the bible “Beware of strangers, lest thou be entertaining angels unaware.” And no, I’m probably no “angel” personally. Yet too many have spurned me as “a stranger“ to this day; and yes, they’ve done that to the very one touched by some true “Angel” Who tried to warn us, yet got no further than a lynch mob reception.

Yet I tell you THIS not only to un-do THAT, but because I not only believe, but profoundly know, that whatever it SEEMED like in all its horror, that not a single person at Jonestown, even (or especially) the smallest child, died untouched by the most profound compassion from higher, unseen planes, even as humans trespassed the laws of God and man both.

And that even though we may never fully comprehend; and however it causes anguish, there are still ways, MANY ways, to dispel the profound DIS-honor of how this story came down in the world.

Honoring the dead with the memorial plaques is way overdue, and thank God that that is finally done. It is my hope that other clearings might emerge as well. This is a great, needed, overdue memorial; though even at that, not enough.

Without further ado, this is “Allegory” exactly as it was written back then. I’ve just added sectional divisions (it was originally written in one continuous flow), as it now being set musically for chorus and orchestra.  May all be graced and blessed by every measure of their hearts.


I. The Land Lies Barren and Waste

The land lies barren and waste — the wake of unprecedented devastation!
It is the dying of the day.
He stands at the penultimate hour of tribulation!,
and even the air is fraught with a deathly still.

By his side is a child – whom fate could ordain to lead an entire race!
Now –‘neath the dim fire of dawning stars,
dusk shrouds each tender face.

They are surrounded by a wall that is both massive, and clothed in heavy guard.
There is no known means. . . . of escape!
A na—-tion… is DY——-ing.
G-g-g-g-…god I—s. . . in A—-
gony. . . . and no-one speaks. . . . .

II. On My Left Hand Stands a Child

On my left hand stands a child. On my right hand stands a wall.
In my heart all is still, though Titans fall: And pa–a-a-A–triots grIE-ie-ie–ieve. . .
“Leave this place, itinerant one!,” a suppliant cries.
“Leave this place, Prometheus!
Mankind has more need of thee than these few.. . . last. . .
Has-ten thee!”
My heart is still. I only see this child. . .

III. No One Knows Me

No one knows me –why I give all,
though the moment to intercede is past, or has not yet come. . .:
No. I am not numb.
My nerve-fibers bristle with a surfeit of senseate ache. . . .
My voice cries slumberless! through thinnn dawnnn. . . .
I listen: to the song of the un-marked graves, Gone!, Gone!,’”
and my wrath knows NOdelay. . .
Yet my heart lies oh, so ocean-still. . . .
Swallows glide numberless o’er the waves. I see them plunge one by one,
towards the sea, ‘neath the foam. My own heart sinks with thee. . .

IV. I Remember

I remember –lest my heart still seem a cool green meadow-home—
where trees would grow and swallows nest, and little children come to play,
one by one– how you
came –washed in pain!— ‘neath the setting of the sun, a raging, moon-swept sea,
wrest from every hour and age, from every time and need:
From the childhood of your questioning eyes,
from the wasted youth of your unrefrained desire,
a fire that only dies, dies, dies. . . .
From a land where dreams are cast aside, fortunes capsized and turned,
lives submerged and lost. . .
In the madness of your thwarted cries, for ‘Time!’past all reprieve!
Begging amnesty for all sins past; and destiny of all future guise. . . .
And each one asked a favor. And each one asked a wile.
And no child thought one drop of sweetness drawn could exile mean
from such a sweet, sweet land. . .
I remember — lest your dreams, love, still seem
a reverie that gods would fire and breathe,
make real for thee and glean -–
as you think, “Oh how good, how sweet, how fine to come as a little child,”
how Ilistened to the song of the unmarked graves: “Gone!, Gone!,
and turned NOT/ away. Aye,
No vision will bring peace. No. No longing will bring calm, nor even a balm,
not for me, but even for thee: as
the grey world waits, and orphans shamefully weep; and you hear the pleas
to see, to feel, to know, to speak:
To remember!!! –lest this moment die deep within the dying of a
world’s last rays, in vain–:
how you too came, and exclaimed in ecstatic murmurings,
“Oh my Saviour, just in time!’ — as
the grim earth quakes with failing breath, and faltering steps, with scarcely time at all:
Too late to mend, progressed past arrest— too soon for men to heed and grasp—
Haunted the past, the future —foredoomed!– looms and
cries, cries, cries its all-too-present deaths!!!!
WHY——– have you slept? WHY—— have you slept?
WHY. . . . . . have you. . . slept?”

V. Yes, It Is Time Indeed

Yes, it is time indeed! And though it bring me only grief to impart to you
the graveness of this day –what you must do and know and say–:
Though it brings my heart to your keenest need, though you’d not believe it, I say:
“I give to you the best of days!”
–(And some shuddered. And some were like stone.
And some walked on, on, on. . .)–:
“To live in a hallowed grief. . . . . .or freely die!!”
And some ran. And some turned. And some faltered. And some hid.
Yet some rose brave, and claimed:
“You see, there is no garden here, only what you’ve made of need, of fear, of pain:
(I came, I love. . I feed. . . .). . .
“There never was a garden-home — only what your pain, your need would prescribe.
And when you laid your woes on this altar of ALL life, you relinquished all claim. . .
to distance. . . apathy. . . or retreat:
Arise, ye people, wake! A-RI————SE. . . . . . . .:”

VI. As a Swallow Cast In Flight

Their voice fell, snow-silent as a dying dove,
as a swallow cast in flight — towards death, towards night,
‘loft a brimming breath of the dark-dawned sea. . . . .
And the sentries of my heart did grieve, and sorrowfully shook their heads:
“Aye, it’s true, I fear. There is no garden here.
They have plucked the fruit — the best!
Now none can enter- in. . . .”

VII. Who Will Hold You Strong Now

Who would hold you strong now as you shook, and wept, and grieved?
Who will move on (–while you sleep–), as the wars rage and innocents die?
My heart —laid waste!— would cry, bleed, drain ‘neath the dead
weight. . . of slain men’s bones. . . .
Hush. No recourse waits. My heart has known its last reprieve.
My heart beats on, on, on. I would not deceive you: it has been long to come.
Yet when all is known, yet when all is done, it puzzles me:
Though you long not for pain, yet/ you long not for love:
a love to make you strong!
Whilst love is cast; your will is bent; and you wither. . .
within the sweet rays of my love with no protest . .?
Oh, mourn not your garden-loss! Love in this present place is a fearful thing,
an awesome weight.
Love –as a memory– can be kissed and blessed — recognized, reconciled,
yea! — extolled!
And you’ll hear it as though the light of the Sun were sound, a gold far chime. He said:

VIII. He Said, “Come, My Sons, My Daughters

“Come, my sons, my daughters, a new world’s at your behest.
I would bring you through the slaughter. I will bring you through each test.
Though men be blind, and falter, I— give credence to your best!
That my heart would be your altar, and my love would be your rest.’”
The sentries round the outer wall are brute and gray:
“No. I never saw him pass this way — BE GONE!!”

IX. Now You’ll Gather ‘Round

Now you’ll gather ‘round. Soon it will all be told to thee.
Those who gather in a quickening trust shall hold.
And with my vision as your eyes —a searing fire!–:
you’ll know, you’ll know, you’ll know, why I must
send you forth as a warrior into the darkest night—
send you forth as a warrior to uphold and claim the right!
And I send you forth a proud warrior, divest of dreams and wanton hopes.
For the shelter of my heart a fortress is, a tower shall be, and you shall scale its walls.
The power of the poor, the low is with thee, if you will just give all!
And I send you forth a warrior!
–He who bringeth peace. . . The gentlest one. . .–
He who bringeth the sword!!

X. And You Can Be the Noblest Ones

And you can be the noblest ones to grace this earth.
For I send forth you last first-born of this anguished place!
Yet I send forth you last as first, into no midst of battle-blaze;
but only through this dim dawn’s haze. . . .
And one died. And I laid him in a shelter ‘neath the trees. His day is done.
The sun did not scorche his lithe frame. Nor did many grieve for him.
He seemed so calm (–pass on!–) and overborne with shade.
Another died — as he sobbed wretchedly on his last, torn breath,
“That I might live to redeem a travesty of mistakes, trials, and sorrows!”
Who cried for him, cried past rest; and nestled at last within a web of insulate pain.
Yet another died — as with a shout, he cried:
My death shall be avenged by all brave women and men!“
I would not bury him –though the very oceans weep–,
but I laid him ‘neath the setting of the sun,
for all mankind to see, and justly grieve:
The epiphany of me — flesh of my flesh, pain of my pain. . . .
My heart is full. . . still. . . sealed. . . . . contained.

XI. Now the Vultures Come

Now the vultures come –grey carrions of death–:
they pick, pluck, peck, tear at his flesh with cruel-eyed intent, and crudely jest:
I will save thee.” Ha!, mock call! Who will save thee this day?
So few would enter in, and stay.
And as they incessantly peck at his bile in rude thrusts, they even smile,
because “It is not He,” they say.
Humanity, humanity, will you not be saved?
And the martyrs bleed. And hypocrites pray!,
one by one. Now they plunder, and disarray the nest. The land is bereft of trees.
Children weep. Grief has expended its war-born toll.
Now the sentries wait.

XII. The Guardians of My Heart Are Crimson, Dark and Green

The guardians of my heart are crimson, dark, and green.
The guardians of the wall are brute and grey.
Weep not, my little child, for I do encircle thee, though this day, your die is cast:
Though flanked by “liars and thieves!,” theysay,

XIII. This Day You Are Christened

this day you are christened: crowned in autumn leaves,
and bedecked in new-fallen snow:
You’ll be not afraid, you’ll see a road, you’ll know a way.
Your greens have turned to amber now, your golds will blaze and fade:
no longer a child to be.
You’ll set upon a long, untrammelled road, to set my people free!
And though all men may deny your fate, and though no man may know your name —
Though you’d be defamed!,
THAT day lead forth a company of daughters and sons.
Think. But think not, “Who will choose? Who will stand? Who will stay? Who will lose all?”
(What had you to find, lost child? incipient warrior? antithetical god?)
You must move on this ominous day, whate’erbefall your fate!
For I have made a covenant with thee.
I appear to be in chains. Yet I shall leave thee . . . .FREE!
Only three things did I ask:
That you vow to move on, though every sign may read, “No hope.”
That you know you are right, though every step are your feet alone.
That you never turn back.
And some said, “I will see.” And some cried, “It is pain!’”
And some claimed, ‘I need thee past victory, agony, ….or demise.’
But still the covenant remains, if only one its honor give.
For as I live, I would share all with thee. And with each
nerve-torn fiber of my time-worn heart, I proclaim, ‘I’d stay!
Yet all I would say, you would never listen.
Thus you must weep, and you must bleed, and you must grieve.
Yet you must speak!:
I spoke for all, I spoke for each one that none would defend, nor hear, nor save.
I spoke to free each slave, from unjust shares, ruthless gains, the power men crave.
I spoke of prisons, youth, and unsung graves. . . .
None spoke more true, none spoke more brave. Yet you must speak, too,
where the un-spoken –devastatingly!–. failed:
The deliberate mercies; the reckless affirmations;
the joy feigned, and the agony well-concealed.
No. It did its work too well, in a way. . .
But if this earth continues to quake, race against race, war after war —
If the bondage will not break, for laureates will not rise to the fore —
If the valiant will not stand, to defend their own though laid waste is their land! —
If you deny the oppressed a home, or leave this call to fend alone– then– though–
all this heart would render a–ches — you’ll not feel its pain, you’ll not heed its law–
Though my heart for you asun-der BRE—— – EA–K-S. . . .
Then shall I speak no more; then shall I speak . . .no more.”

XIV. The Song Rises

The song rises from a thousand un-marked graves,
its strains filtering through thin dawn. . .

XV. Rasping, Wrestling

Rass–ping. Wrestling to expound in a dark, un-certain key;
to express in wavering tones a dirge too low to justly grieve,
a song too weak for too-wrong deaths!!
One voice rises higher than foul-decaying flesh,
“All power to thee!”
Yet: where even spectres scarcely cry:
“Arise! Arise! The last shall fall to thee.
The last shall fall. . . to thee. .”
You longed for interpretation. But the interpreter is gone.
The play is done. Now you the player shall be.
Only the silent voice within speaks plain, to you, true bearer of the faith:

XVI. You Stand Alone

You stand alone. Hence I send you forth.
Through calvaries of night, on this pilgrimage of dry dust, and blistering rain.
Though men be blind, you see a distant light.
Though men be dumb, you speak with fervent tongue —
yet all you greet are blind, and deaf, and dumb. . .
And so –unwavering!–, you climb the wall, though men’s
brute guns wait at your feet, hoist
the sweet- child aloft your shoulder blades, to meet your call:
With your left hand, you secure his hold. With your right hand now you lift
a proud torch, and journey on — un-fed, un-bedded, un-shorn:

XVII. Black Prometheus

BLACK Prometheus!, your face is richly dark, and no fire-flies guide your feet.
Thus your flames are pure
BLACK Prometheus!, wanderer through ten thousand nights and days — first, last–
to endure this earth’s cruel sacrifice fate.
Prometheus, you are verdant black: dark, yet green. Strafed! Yet exudant of life!
Prometheus, you are black– proud tower of light:

XVIII. None Will Feel the Pure Still Heart of Thee

Shine forth! Cry out! Cry loud! Cry FREE—. . . . . .
Cry grief, Promethean one, for all this darkening world –alas!– has need of thee,
yet turns, turns, turns:
None will feel the pure, still heart of Thee, TURNS!
None will speak Thy words of life.
TURNS! Nor take this surrogate plight, turns,
turns!! Thy mountain glimmers with a light too bright for Man to see!
None see that no sun pours down light more radiant than your brave eyes
turns, turns, turns:
Prometheus spurned! — Bound. Yet free—. . .
A vulture’s glee are your inward wounds and pains
–makes mockery of your chains– TURNS!:
Yet still this self-same tragedy confirms:
Mankind –not thee– is doomed. Mankind has bound himself in chains!!:

XIX. Go Forth, Prometheus!

Go forth, Prometheus!!, from this ALIEN RACE!!!
To another clime, to another time and place. Where your face is not
“An anathema!” to the blind; nor your words, “A blasphemy!” to the deaf.
Where free beings speak — where dreams are left behind, for goodness lives. . .
“No one knows me, why I give all. . .”

XX. Then At Some Fine Indeterminate Point of Distant Reckoning

Then, at some fine, indeterminate point of distant reckoning:
you will be seen as a rising, waxing star —
Aye. Too late, too dim, too far. . . .
Seen and known to raise the very angels from their rest. . . .
to tread the purest edge of quickening sun. . . .
Bid each, last, grief-laden one a new farewell– smile; nod; “Be bra—-ve.”
Wave one last, fast-fading farewell. . . . . .
Pity the earth-hell-grave. Then tur——-n. . . :
To eternally tread that path forlorn, from dawn, to dawn.
(in the beginning there will always BE— but thee. . .) to
Di——-mmm———–ly fil– ——-tering daw———nn–.-n . .-n . . .

XXI. The Tears Flow Now Finally

The tears flow now finally, in full, pouring torrents of
bitter-sweet, salt, and dusky rain!
Who you would have taken with you!
Yet so few would chance the rude, hard journey
to the very heart of the most . shining . five . pointed . star. . .
How many you would have taken with you! But now, it will all be too late. . . .
Now it is not a matter of who you would –with full, sweet-willing heart!–
carry aloft your back.
Now it is all —only!– what you would leave to remain.
Your mission of rescue has become —TRAGICALLY!!— a mission of legacy.

XXII. Yet Your Heart Is Still

Yet your heart is still. Not a moment’s waver, not a shade.
You’d lay down your hallowed, yet weary frames;
Even humble yourself to be called just, “the last of men, the first of saints.”
For them to trample, scorn, and maim– for them to castigate, denigrate, and shame–
OF MY SPI——– RI—–TT!!”
For only the non-flesh-ridden to extol the NA—–AA———–mmme—–. . . .