Mary O’Dell, native of Beckley, West Virginia, has been writing poetry for forty years.  Her work has appeared in hundreds of journals, including Appalachian Heritage, Wind, and Now & Then.  Her poetry collections include Poems for the Man Who Weighs Light and Living in the Body, both by Edwin Mellen Poetry Press, and A Danerous Man and What I Can Count On, from Finishing Line Press.  She currently teaches continuing education classes in poetry and fiction writing, and serves as president of Green River Writers, Inc.

A Front, Approaching


White and formless like feathers bundled
it whelms and lavishes,
laps up the slope,
tucks into the curving hillside.

Yet even when stilled to rest
it is not benign but cataract. 
Those who subscribe to its promise
go blind. 

Here, a charge: loosen your hair,
give yourself as the trees do
in their rocking,
their flurries of leaves

whipping down and around,
dark comet-tails swirling away,
leaving the cautious envious
and staid as posts.

How large does a life have to be
to marry that wind,
to live in the wings overspreading
mountain and hollow

and be seen by the others as manic or magical?
How wide will the wind ever be,
how white,
how full of commotion and blow,

how, forever, it carries the willing away
and still it circles
outward and outward.  Open your arms,
step into that cyclone of light.








Not the clear sun this morning.
Not the air so light, nor the dog’s clean coat
as she scouts our path nose to earth,
tail waving slow -- not these.

At my elbow, the Presence. 
Mists of the dear dead, perhaps, serene
and forbearing.  A Psalm with sheep, a stream trickling cool.
A rod.  A staff.

Like a gift still wrapped in misty dawn,
like my heart astonished, the days
running before us, pristine, full of breath.
Like these.






No Going Gentle


On the highway’s edge
near a swag of blown cattails
the ring-tailed bandit lies, swollen
already proud with death
its mouth a rictus, refuge to insects.

Here, life grinned into the silvery teeth
of a humming machine
last breath hissed out in a snarl
of bubbled blood.

Now, beneath a hovering ball of gnats
the wet-earth smell of rain
rises in a fog
like peace, bereft.






At the Edge of These Woods


I hesitate,
shy of snags and brambles,
spidery legs
and the snake’s triangle head.

I think of my life, blessed and scarred,
and my children’s,
and fear even more
what waits among these trees. 

I am halt and old,
yet I must plunge in,
for I will only grow older,
more lame every day.

As I step into gloom
and the sodden odor of rotting leaves;
ground ivy snags me and I fall,
catching saw brier in both hands.

Still on my knees, I recount my petty injuries
and think of a woman
whose daughters have died,
another whose child suffered rape.

I have not seen my own in such straits,
have never, myself, been beaten or starved.
Shame rises like the blood
from my torn fingers.
Then, in this place of reptile and thorn
I touch my tongue to these scant wounds
and taste the salt
of this dark truth. 






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