Expanding how I tell Appalachia’s story
At the beginning of 2019, I wrote that I would no longer be doing news reporting. I did warn, however, that I might be back.
It is my intention to be far down the road of the transition by March 1. In fact, I’ve already begun by the addition of the art page. You can read more below. In any event, I’ve concluded it is time to transition to telling Appalachia’s story through Folk Art, storytelling, poetry and more. Of course, I will write about others doing it, including naturally the incredibly talented musicians that populate Caldwell County, Western North Carolina, and all of Southern and Central Appalachia.
To learn more about my workshops: “Community of Writers” and “Gathering a Family History,” or my story-telling and poetry reading, please contact me at email@example.com.
Now, about that art:
The Hillbilly Highway
The word “hillbilly” is often used in less than flattering terms. However, as a West Virginia native and life-long Appalachian resident, I consider the Hillbilly as Hero.
To many, the term “Hillbilly Highway” refers to the roads Appalachians once used to leave for the industrial north and now the Sunbelt, looking for work. I, however, takes another view. Born and raised in the heart of the Mountain State, I have traveled tens of thousands of miles along the back roads of Central and Southern Appalachia chronicling the history and stories of Appalachia. This informs my view as the Hillbilly as heroic.
Try traveling it for yourself! Doing so will allow you to slow down, see some of the oldest and most beautiful forests in the world, and make some new friends.
© Michael Mathers Barrick, 2019
“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
The cabin is nestled into
the steep, wooded ridge of the forest.
The slope ends abruptly, steps away.
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.
It is night in southern Appalachia.
The creatures declare:
Here, you are merely a visitor.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2012 – 2017. Photo credit: Ray Hennessy
A poem at Pentecost
By Michael M. Barrick
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.
It is the language of the Incarnation.
To the rationalist, it is unintelligible; to the mystic, the native tongue.
It is the language that made and keeps me as one
It is the language that prompts my confessor
to call or visit at the most unpredictable – but perfect – times.
It is the source of the compassion that compelled me
to apologize to Nan as her son – my friend – was dying.
It is the language that overwhelms me with tears
during morning prayers or while walking in the woods.
It is the language that compels me to approach strangers
with a smile.
It is the language of family and friends,
for those despairing and despondent.
It is the language that ignites the spirit of peace
through the arts.
It is the language that calls us to love all of humanity
with mercy, grace, and hope.
It is the language that compelled John to leap
in Elizabeth’s womb upon the greeting from Mary.
It is the language
of the Master of my heart.
© Michael Barrick, 2015 -17.
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
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
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
will not be enjoyed by
They shall cross them
with a straight, 42-inch
cylinder of pipe,
indifferent to the heritage
they disrupt and destroy.
© Appalachian Chronicle, 2014 – 2017
On Twitter: @appchronicle
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.
© Carol Starr, 2017. Carol Starr is a member of our recently formed community of writers in Lenoir, N.C. – MB
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.
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.
© Abigail Taylor, 2016
“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” –
© Michael M. Barrick, 2015
We are on Facebook
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,
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.
© Michael Barrick/Appalachian Chronicle, 2015