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Published: Tue Jul 1 2014
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
My Father’s Poison

On the day of the Jonestown massacre, Stephan Jones, nineteen,
and other members of the Peoples Temple basketball team were away,
playing a series of games against Guyana’s national team.

Every hour of the day, my father knew
he was a fraud, was afraid he’d be
found out. Before we left the compound,
he lectured us on sportsmanship,
character and grace, told me to make sure
no one could escape. In the jungle,
he was our only source of news.
Sirens screaming in our sleep, his voice
on the PA announcing a White Night.
He said the US was building prison camps
and closing borders, launching
nuclear war, that only he could keep
us safe. To protect ourselves we’d smile,
clap, shout out amen or praise.

After the Congressman arrived,
my father told us to come home,
ranting on the radio until I told him no,
refused to change my mind. My father
had the brightest light I’ve ever known.
Even when I hated him, he still
could make me laugh, believe
our church could change the world.
But what he poured into the Temple
left a hole behind. When love
wasn’t enough to fill him up,
he made us feel fear instead.

I think he really did believe that it was best
for everyone to die. He knew
the airstrip murders wouldn’t be ignored,
that authorities were on their way.
But he must’ve been surprised
by how many resisted, had to be forced
to drink or held down and injected.
I know if I’d been there
I would’ve drunk my father’s poison
one last time—not for his sake
but my own. He never scared me
more than when he called me son,
promised I’d inherit everything he had.

Carrie Shipers’s poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, AGNI, Hayden’s Ferry Review, New England Review, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review, and other journals. She is the author of two chapbooks, Ghost-Writing (Pudding House, 2007) and Rescue Conditions (Slipstream, 2008), and two full-length collections, Ordinary Mourning (ABZ, 2010) and Embarking on Catastrophe (forthcoming from Able Muse). (updated 11/2014)

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