A child grows up in a Northern California cult — a close-knit community of 400 people who seek to live an ideal, even utopian life. Things go well for a while, until they don’t. Son of a Cult is a memoir in verse, full of beauty and light, but also darkness and drama.
Allen C. Jones
A Leader Needs a Legend
She was born in the final days of the British Raj.
It is said,
Brahmins proffered themselves before her pram begging
to roll over them. Oh yes.
She met the great mystics, a child prodigy
who sat in a circle of students and read minds,
quick as a magician flipping cards
—King of hearts, Jack of clubs—
the right one every time.
the side effects
of such a superpower.
She married an actor in New York birthed five children
then escaped his philandering in a VW bus
west to California,
reading every mind she met, the highway a cacophony
of lust, loss, and jeremiad, her golden locks flying
out the window,
for she was stunning. Oh yes.
She bought a sacred mountain for she was also rich.
What we Americans call a double whammy.
Her husband begged forgiveness then stole
her secret knowledge
in late night conversation.
Armed with esoteric pillow talk,
it was he who started the cult. Oh yes.
And it was the kind of cult you’re thinking of.
A fine actor,
he played both
King of hearts and Jack of clubs (sex and violence
from those post-coital chats).
blinds even the great mystics, so it took years before
the man behind the curtain.
She had to storm
her own husband’s compound.
When men drew guns at the gates,
her mythical golden hair proved
It is said
she simply led the women away, offering to teach them.
A single rule: no fucking around. The men followed,
as men do.
And so my people came to be, spawning
to five hundred,
and no one fucked around, a feat
more miraculous than parting a seawater inlet.
But there were other rules. Oh yes.
And five hundred minds she could not silence,
lusting, losing, and perpetually editing jeremiads.
She liked to compare herself to Moses, we her people,
though she made it clear
we were more lost than chosen. I ponder those tablets.
Were there ten,
or did the old prophet shuffle them like a magician?
Did his people check the handwriting? We certainly didn’t.
Hung over from reminiscing, Morphine still pumping through the stereo,
we head to The Terrible Café. The eggs run,
fly-shit speckles the walls, and the waitress
wants to poison us for making her work.
Who would ever come back here?
flicking her order pad out like a switchblade.
She is famous for this, and my brother loves it, slurping his raw egg
like a sacramental soup. He’s come home,
odd-jobbing for the aunts and uncles, even for The Leader.
He asks about the other side of the world.
No terrible cafés, I say, choking down
a half-frozen piece of toast, doughy knots
expanding in my gut.