Dear Appalachia

Photo of author Anne Shelby

With the author's permission, we are pleased to share with you this powerful poem by Clay County author Anne Shelby. She expresses beautifully the deep and conflicting emotions many Kentuckians feel about our home communities. The poem was first written for a National Public Radio program, State of The Reunion. A version of it was published in the journal Appalachian Heritage. Thank you, Anne!

Dear Appalachia,

Sometimes, I think you're trying to run me off. Go on. Take your best shot.

Tell me I'm not welcome anymore. I'm blue as a fish hook; you're red as cardinal weed. And now Fox News, talk radio, and ten thousand web sites reinforce what was always most narrow- minded, most mean-spirited in you. Bring on the dozers and the dynamite. Blow the tops off these mountains as if they were nothing more than just coal to be mined, just money to be made. Prove to me that for every crooked politician we get rid of, three more will emerge, younger and slicker, to take his place. Show me meth labs. Show me the children of families poor now for seven generations.

I will not turn away. And I will show you houses with vegetables and flowers growing alongside, with children raised in a loving crowd of neighbors and kin – gentle, dignified, invisible.

You won't run me off, and I won't go. We are all bound together here, by our love for this place -- deep, abiding, and ultimately inexplicable, though a thousand hillbilly songs have tried to explain it.

We are bound by memory, which lingers over these hills and valleys like fog after rain. My great-great-uncle hunted with yours. They traded dogs, knives, stories, fiddle tunes. Our great- grandfathers shouted to one another in the corn field and the log woods. Our great-great-aunts and grandmothers quilted and broke beans together, talking and laughing easy under shade trees. For two hundred years they stood at one another's sickbeds, birthings, baptizings and buryings, and wondered at the same mysteries and knew the same joys, the same sorrows.

You can't run me off, and I can't go. I've been here too long now. I can't rest away from the soft embrace of hills around me, can't feel the blood running in my veins without creek water rushing over rocks. I'm lost without the markers in the family graveyard, to show me where I came from and where I'm bound.

You can drown me out, but I'll keep singing anyway. I know the words and the tune, the harmony parts, the parts that stomp the floor and the parts that yearn – one more hillbilly song, about how I love you and how you break my heart.

Your daughter,

Anne Shelby