Cargo Cult

Marc Ruvolo

Cargo Cult

The dust on the beetle’s backside
Iridescent, gold-flecked
(beneath the worn, ornate saddle)
Tickles your nose
And you, ah, you
It can hardly be called a road –
Rutted dirt; fragrant weeds
And a trickling ditch.
Man-faced manatees swim
To the sand spars, shells shining
Giddy flippers
Calling out, “Johnfrum!
As you pass
And you wave embarrassedly.

This time around
They have built an aeroplane
For you
Palm frond and coconut husk
Built a dirt landing strip,
That old Manai,
With her sagging, dark dugs,
Her eyes like gunmetal rivets
Will be made to sweep
Three times a day.
The villagers bunch up,
Like always,
Whisper laughing
Pink tongues touching teeth
Elders to the rear
Children to the front.
And goggle, wide-eyed at
The cargo you’ve brought:
Rubber Novelty Vomit
Moon Pies
Socket Sets
Oven Mitts
Cherry Schnapps.

The villagers fall
Completely undone
Into a splendid, giggling,
Amongst the treasures,
And spill sticky
Kava-Kava from coconut cups
All over themselves
Overcome by the
Heady scent
Of diesel oil and spearmint gum,
Scented toilet water and rainbow
Suspenders, FDR Masks
And jackalope antlers.

A party begins, and FDR dances
Once more. A soft miracle.

And now you, their erstwhile
Or jester, or trickster,
Momentarily forgotten,
Remounts the giant, patient, beetle
Friend, your slouch cap olive drab,
Marlboro as yet unlit in your mouth,
Together wade
Into the gentle, lapping surf,
Red-faced, but yeah? very happy,
Content they would say back

And you daydream of streetlights,
Train horns mournful, TV static
At breathless midnight
As white-tipped wavelets hum

“Johnfrum” the wavelets hum.

Marc Ruvolo is a queer writer/musician from Austin TX. His stories and essays have appeared in Bewildering Stories, The Minnesota Journal of Science Fiction, and courtesy of Left of the Dial Books. A fixture of the DIY punk scene for over thirty-five years, he has toured extensively, with fifty-five physical releases, and two more on the way in 2020. SFF hooked him early; a home, an avocation, and he has never dared to look back since.

Editor’s Notes: I will forgo my initial instinct to include the surreally colored beetle (which you can see on Pinterest: and instead concentrate on “cargo cult” and on John Frum, a figure associated with cargo cults on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu, who is often depicted as an American World War II serviceman who will bring wealth and prosperity to the people if they follow him ( A cargo cult is a belief system in a relatively undeveloped society in which adherents practice superstitious rituals hoping to bring modern goods supplied by a more technologically advanced society. These cults, millenarian in nature, were first described in Melanesia* in the wake of contact with more technologically advanced Western cultures. The name derives from the belief which began among Melanesians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that various ritualistic acts such as the building of an airplane runway will result in the appearance of material wealth, particularly highly desirable Western goods (cargo), via Western airplanes, which dropped supplies on them during WWII. ( This interview article sheds more light on this semi-religious cult:

The photograph of the plane constructed in Vanuatu is through the courtesy of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Library’s Melanesian Archives in association with Island Culture Archival Support (ICAS) (

* Melanesia includes the countries of Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea

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