Category Archives: Poetry

Our Way of Life

“Our way of life” requires
a war machine says the president.
He is not the first to say so;
“The Donald” is just more blunt.

Despite the feigned consternation
of the chattering class, this is our history.
A continent conquered through genocide,
the slaughter completed when Chief Sitting Bull was shot down.

An economy sustained by slavery,
its history screams of man’s inhumanity to his own.
Tolerated far too long,
it could be ended only by Civil War carnage.

Industry was built on the backs of laborers
as crony capitalism profited all but the workers.
War was waged on miners in the West Virginia hills
while children in Southern textile mills labored to the bone.

An empire was built
from Cuba to the Philippines.
Puppet dictators were established here and yonder,
while we fought undeclared wars in Southeast Asia.

We have been at war
since our children were – children.
Our granddaughter has yet to live
in a world in which we don’t wage war.

We justify it easily,
even though the boxes we call home
are filled with boxes of stuff.
It is, after all, Our Way of Life.

All “dire threats” to it
will be destroyed.
If in doing so we obliterate ourselves –
it is Our Way of Life.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

Sitting Bull quote

Merely a Visitor

The cabin is nestled into
the steep, wooded ridge of the forest.
The slope ends abruptly, steps away.

After dark,
the night creatures peer in.
Yet, we venture out.

The campfire reassures;
around it, our faces are cast orange
by its fading embers.

First the bats swoop in –
treetop level, scooping bugs –
mosquitoes we hope.

The rustling of leaves up the ridge
under the dark canopy
remains a mystery.

The coyotes scream a frightful warning
to the deer from ridge to ridge.
The outcome inevitable and unmistakable to the ear.

The owls hoot and screech;
Such a hullabaloo is rarely heard.
Except here.

It is night in southern Appalachia.
The creatures declare:
Here, you are merely a visitor.

ray-hennessy-118046

© Michael M. Barrick, 2012 – 2017. Photo credit: Ray Hennessy

Soul Speak

A poem at Pentecost

By Michael M. Barrick

Cross by Aaron Burden

Credit: Aaron Burden

For Christians that follow a liturgical calendar, Pentecost is a commemoration of the beginning of the church, as read about in Acts 2: 1-11.  This poem, while originating from a long, ongoing dialogue about the Incarnation with a dear friend who is a Catholic priest, is certainly not intended only for the “religious.” It is my experience, in having friends of every faith or no faith, that there is something intangible that happens among friends and family that mystically connects us. This is one such expression of that phenomenon.

Soul Speak.
It is the language of the Incarnation.
To the rationalist, it is unintelligible; to the mystic, the native tongue.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that made and keeps me as one
with Sarah.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that prompts my confessor
to call or visit at the most unpredictable – but perfect – times.

Soul Speak.
It is the source of the compassion that compelled me
to apologize to Nan as her son – my friend – was dying.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that overwhelms me with tears
during morning prayers or while walking in the woods.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that compels me to approach strangers
with a smile.

Soul Speak.
It is the language of family and friends,
for those despairing and despondent.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that ignites the spirit of peace
through the arts.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that calls us to love all of humanity
with mercy, grace, and hope.

Soul Speak.
It is the language that compelled John to leap
in Elizabeth’s womb upon the greeting from Mary.

Soul Speak.
It is the language
of the Master of my heart.

© Michael Barrick, 2015 -17.

The Deceived ‘god’

A poem dedicated to Dominion Resources

By Michael M. Barrick

Note: This poem is dedicated to Dominion Resources. Originally published in January 2015, I am re-publishing it today in light of recent news stories about Dominion, including this one we published yesterday and this one

Dominion they call themselves.
And they believe it.
They have deceived themselves,
intoxicated by false power.
They are a god – of greed.

Though their foundation is illusory,
disregarding all in life that is of true value,
it sustains them for they esteem only profit.

Their minions are experts in the law.
Like Sanhedrin, they use the letter
to crush the spirit.

What is theirs is not enough;
what is yours is in their sights.
What is yours is negotiable –
on their terms.

What is sacred to you
they curse.

The old home place;
the sunrise over the ridge;
the moon hanging in the
deep blues of night.
The stars which pre-date
their temporal, mortal
white-washed tombs,
they don’t even glimpse.

The only green they see
is on currency.

The ancient rocks,
which for generations
have served as sentinels,
as comforting reminders of
a shared heritage,
they plow away
with their machines.

A walk in the woods,
which for you is a moment
of holiness – an opportunity
to pass along wisdom
to your grandchildren –
is to them merely a survey.

The narrow, crooked paths
made through time by
your ancestors
will not be enjoyed by
your descendants.

They shall cross them
with a straight, 42-inch
cylinder of pipe,
indifferent to the heritage
they disrupt and destroy.

AJ and Grandpa 9

Above, the author enjoys a walk in the woods with his granddaughter in Lewis County, W.Va. Below is Shenandoah Mountain in Virginia. Photo by Brad Striebig. Though Dominion did not create these streams, woods, ridges and mountains, it will not hesitate to claim it all as its own and destroy it. Unless, we dare to speak out.

Shenandoah Mountain

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2014 – 2017

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A Haiku for Earth

Happy Earth Day!  Do something good for our mother. – M.B.

By Carol Starr

Suspended in space

this beautiful blue marble

is our only toy.

Earth 2 NASA

© Carol Starr, 2017.  Carol Starr is a member of our recently formed community of writers in Lenoir, N.C. – MB

In this Time of Mourning

To Orlando and to Everyone, on June 12th 2016. Note: While the horrific massacre in Orlando Sunday morning did not happen in Appalachia, it is essential for the survival of humanity that we stand in solidarity with victims of hate, wherever they may live — or die. 

By Abigail Taylor

I feel unworthy to speak
To such a tragic day.
But how must I channel
Such pure ANGER, and DESPAIR?
I STAND in solidarity.
I pray for, nay, DEMAND! peace.

LGBT flag

There are those among us
Who have lost their humanity
Who are blinded by hatred
Who seek an ignorant, self-serving, empty prize.
And use their violence
To extinguish your spirit
To interrupt your joy
To stomp on your PRIDE
To forcefeed you with fear.
But we must not buckle.
we must not let it numb us.
WE MUST STAND UP.
WE MUST GET ANGRY.
And let that ANGER lead us to
LOVE more urgently
HOPE more fiercely
And fight with PEACE.
Embrace your brother and sister.
Embrace your gay brothers and sisters.
Embrace a stranger.
Life is clearly too short
Not to LOVE
With every fiber
Of our beings.

As if the future
Depends on it.
It does.

© Abigail Taylor, 2016

One Thing

“You are lacking in one thing”
heard the young man.
The one thing was surrender – in his case, of possessions.
Still, the Teacher “loved him.”

The only thing else revealed is that the young man
“Went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
In time, it is possible that the young man gave away all,
and followed the Teacher, overwhelmed by love.

Of this, one can only speculate.
But this we know:
We each have “one thing” –
at least.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2015

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100 Choices

By Michael M. Barrick

Note: Today is the “National Day of Prayer” in the United States. It would be refreshing to hear prayers that are not disguised sermons wrapped in the American flag. So, this year, I offer the following poem as a prayer so that we, as a people, will turn from our gods of materialism, consumerism, pride, power, sex, greed and money. Allegiance to these false gods impact not only the people in Haiti, but also in Appalachia, and the inner cities of this country, and everywhere, as we see on the nightly news. Our choices impact every person on this planet, and those that will follow. – MB

“We now have 100 choices of beverages”
the fast food franchise brags on a billboard.
“Really?!” I exclaimed in indignation to my wife.

That is exactly 101 more
than the people in Haiti,
where even water is scarcely a choice.

There, I witnessed an orphan,
maybe three-years-old,
drinking water gushing from a broken water line.

For our choices, for our indifference
I could pray for God’s mercy.
Instead, I pray for justice.

Street in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Street in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Trembling.

© Michael Barrick/Appalachian Chronicle, 2015

Make Me

By Michael M. Barrick

A poem for the New Year…

Make me.
Take me – wholly.
Make me – holy.

Though you give me free will, make me Yours.
Make me be light in darkness.
Make me be peace where there is conflict.
Make me be love where there is hate.

Make me be grace.
Make me be hope.
Make me be strength.
Make me be courage.

Do what You must.
Do not consult me – please!
Make me take You with every step I take.
Make me one with You until I breathe no more.

Then, free me to make those I’ve left behind crave for You.
Free me to make the world yearn for You.
Free me – to make others like You, to be You.

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2014.

Interior Poverty

By Michael M. Barrick
I
Do not be deceived by the 4,000 square-foot house on the fairway.
The man inside, when his income dropped from seven figures to six,
drove to a city park, walked into the woods and put a revolver in his mouth.

Besides leaving behind enough wealth to feed thousands of starving children,
he also left a widow and an orphan in distress.

His suicide note was written as precisely as any insurance contract he inked.
Just an hour before killing himself, he played golf with his friends.
He called his wife and said he would see her at dinner.

It was all a façade, masking his interior poverty.

II
The ramshackle homes of the central West Virginia town
alert the passerby to a shared poverty.

It is, true, a scarcity of the purse.
But it is also poverty with a curse.
It is a contagion of despair.
Why else would every house be in disrepair?

Poverty need not equal filth.
Poverty need not equal mediocrity.
Poverty need not equal ignorance.
Poverty need not equal apathy.

Yet, here it does.
It is as if a vote has been taken;
by informal acclamation, by consent agreement,
a community has surrendered.

They have allowed the corporate barons
that provided and then withdrawn the work to rob them –
of their dignity,
of their hope,
of their souls.
Through surrender to their deprivation,
they have invited desperation to live among them – to lead them.

Yes, they are victims of the new Gilded Age.
Yes, they are the casualties of the Momentum of Mediocrity.
Yes, they have been defeated and defrauded by those that own the politicians.

To deny that their impoverished existence is caused by injustice
is to deny the truth.
Yet, it is also certain that they have surrendered that which
can only be given, not taken – their essence.
The self-neglect reveals what they have collectively accepted – interior poverty.

III
He abused his position, his power and his vows.
He wore the Roman Collar.
He ranked high in the diocese; was wined and dined at the state capitol.
He sexually abused young men, it was asserted (but that is the safe word, for too many knew it was so).

On the eve of his indictment, he died mysteriously.
He was called Father.
He was called to be holy.
Those who could have stopped him, did not.
The one willing to speak – who, in fact, alerted Rome – was banished.

One man, charged with leading the faithful to the Truth.
Instead, he prowled and devoured.
When will it stop?
Until it does, are we to conclude that the Pope is a dope? Or is that too kind?

The Vatican – such wealth.
The parishes – half empty.
Abandoned by those who can not, will not
reconcile the collection basket with abandoned and disparaged souls.

His legacy is the worst kind
of interior poverty – poverty of the soul.

IV
Living in a putrid mess,
addicted to numbing pharmaceuticals,
the brilliant man is challenged – “You have choices you know.”

He responds, “In theory, that’s true.”
Pausing, he adds, “Practically speaking though, I don’t.”

For now, interior poverty rules his life.
Is there hope, or is he astutely accurate?

© Michael M. Barrick / Appalachian Chronicle, 2012-2014