Reading the Language of Jonestown

“What is in the marrow is hard to take out of the bone.”
– Irish saying

Since the initiation of Marrow in 2008, what I find myself working against (besides the challenges that life presents) is the language that too often surrounds Jonestown: ill-fated, tragic. The poems that come clearly want to be more than that, even when – probably if – their stories are underscored by those elements. These are still early drafts of two of them.

My Mama Come From Mississippi

with a twenty dollar bill
tucked in her panties
‘cause her daddy say
nobody bet’not find it there
warning more threatening
mos’ly hoping. She had
a green suitcase
that banged bruises in her
skinny calves
and a handbag
say she bought with
the last of her check
from Miss Mae
so she could look citified
and in the cold last of the 3 she spent the night in
where the pink knit sweater her mama
give her
couldn’t take the chill.
She made a pact
with the Lord won’t nobody gonna turn her ‘round
was gon’ be her Promised Land.

A woman make
her way
what way she know how.

She promise me every
morning I wouldn’t be
no hongrier than she
had been once they run
up they bill for provisions
near every just ‘fore
harvest and she promised
my brother every callus on her feet would be
worth $10 toward his schooling and she promised
Miss Mae, Miss Jo, Miss Edna, Miss Donna, Miss Moore
the sweetest cakes, limp-crisp bacon, and never a
spot on they china.

My mama promise herself to my papa
just ‘fore my brother was born wore every
one of them promises like a coat
and still never had ‘nough to cover in
once night come.


Makeshift Daddy

I walk with my whole foot; heel then toe
School comes to me like a cadence; script
precise and sure. In ball games my body convicts my ma’s friends.
At night they beg forgiveness cloaked in grateful tears.

The baby girl gods me makeshift daddy.

Fear and ego fail me.

I will get the girl,
write screenplays.
hang from the rim
refusing to move from recollection.

I do
every afternoon glistening
post-puberty victory, flexed in the
tilling of heat for a sooner harvest.

Some nights dance
and lob my voice like fertilizer; shush
my brothers
until their turn

(Poet darlene anita scott is a regular contributor to the jonestown report. Her complete collection of writings and poetry for this site may be found here. She can be reached at