Appalachia is a broken mirror and as such, a place of many contrasts–a land of mystery and obvious, a land of song and sorrow, a land of warmth and chill, a land of living and dying, a land of high mountains and deep valleys, a land of people brilliant and people unknowing, a land of hope and hopelessness, a land of richness and worthless, a land of truth and lies, a land of motion and standing still.  It is a land America once forgot and now one she’s forgetting to remember.

One cannot hear the name without turning aside, pausing, wondering, for there is hardly a person alive who has not in some way been touched by this land and these people.  Appalachia has literally fed all the great cities with bodies her own–any land’s greatest gift, her people–and now even these, generations removed, return sometimes in spirit to search for what was lost in the passing, what perhaps never was anyway except in false memory.

Many colored quilts cover the searchers, guitars and banjos bathe songs in music remembered, and deep in the trees a stillness hangs–this beyond the screaming pain of noisy crowds and the familiar wail of sirens.

Even so, to want to know is to realize loneliness is the hearse we ride in.To retrieve such music, coverings, and all else, is an attempt to grasp the forgotten or perhaps what never was, is no more than holding a tiny piece of broken mirror where we see only half a face, our own, and then realize the seven years have just begun.

Appalachia’s people, although mostly British Isles stock, came from everywhere and went likewise.They came to this land of promise, themselves giving promises–they both the gift and the giver. Inherent in it all they lived by nourishment of the land and likewise nourished it in dying.

They cleared the land, plowed and planted and grew first crops abundant.Later they stripped the timber and even later dug the coal.With each new season, the land grew old and often burdened beyond hope, eventually died silently. Now many old fields turn back to timber where leaves go down making the ground, what’s left of it, again new.

Whatever she is, wherever she touches, Appalachia symbolizes America’s dream, and even if we wake in nightmare she is a night we all must sleep through and morning come must go our waking way beyond the dreaming.

Within Appalachia’s myth is a metaphor for us all.We must ask and wonder where she’s been, where she is, and where she is going.We must answer with fire whether it warm us or burn us.

I am Appalachia’s son, born of her, raised by her to manhood.I am also a stranger to her.Still I search in her for the dream, our dream, the American dream–hidden somewhere, I believe, between the clearing and the fields now trees again.Perhaps hidden is notthe right word.Perhaps a better word would be lost–now and forever.Or maybe even never was.

I hold in my hand pieces of the broken mirror, myself part of the glass.This then is my attempt, however futile, to put some of it, if only one piece, back together.

–Lee Pennington

Middletown, Kentucky

April 2013

From Appalachian Newground, an unpublished poetry book manuscript by Lee Pennington

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