View from the Top

I climbed my first tree before I was five. Got stuck. Screamed. Daddy had to walk two miles home from work in the middle of a hot West Virginia afternoon and rescue me. Like a cat, I finally learned not to climb down head-first. For the next XX years (I'd say how many, but no one would believe it) I spent time in the tops of trees, where I learned some of life's most important skills -- and pleasures. I'd say what they were (and are) but that would be telling. And you know what they say -- writers should show, not tell. So kick off your shoes and shimmy on up. Join me here surrounded by blue sky and little green leaves. Bring a book if you like, or a notebook. The apples up here are crisp and ripe and free for the picking.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A little taste of Mary/Ernie O'Dell's short fiction


We’d run out of the stuff, and Jaypop looked over like I could pull another tube out of my butt. We were crashed on his couch. It was the fourth inning, and a Series game. Plenty of R C Cola, but no more string cheese.

I gave him a sideways look and recrossed my feet on his beat-up coffee table.

“Come on, man,” he said. “Go while commercials are on. I’ll pay, but I can’t go. Millie’d kill me if I left little Jay asleep. She don’t get off till six.” He shifted his weight and dug out his wallet.

“Okay, fine.” I got to my feet, waving away the three bucks he offered.

“Convenient Mart on the corner,” he called after me. “And get a sack of them ruffledy chips.”

I jogged out to my pickup and drove like hell. The Phillies and Yankees were tied.

At the store, I collected my chips and cheese and scooted up to the counter, where an old woman on a walker had set down two cans of pinto beans and some hamburger buns. As she fumbled in her pocketbook, someone stepped in line behind me. Big, I sensed. I’m six three, two hundred pounds, and he was bigger than me. And he reeked of onions.

The old woman was talking now to the clerk behind the counter and shaking her head slow, like maybe she didn’t have enough money. The cloudy light from the plate glass window reflected off her scalp where it showed through her thin hair.

I was fingering the bills in my pocket, about to pull one out and offer it to her when, behind me, the big guy muttered, “C’mon, sister, I ain’t got all day.”

I half-turned and whispered, “Hey, buddy, give her a minute.”

“Fuck you,” he growled. “And fuck her, too,” he said, louder. “I gotta be somewhere.”

The clerk, a middle-aged man with a sour face and a comb-over, glanced up.

I turned back to the jerk. “Look, man, she’s old, she’s doing the best she can.”

Facing back to the front, I pulled out a dollar. As I slipped it onto the counter, I felt a sharp whack on the back of my head.

“Hey!” I yelled, and dropped my stuff and jerked around, meeting his mean little eyes. He bared his teeth – big and yellow -- and next thing I knew, I was on him, fists pumping into his ugly face. Then we were on the floor. Blood and spit flew into my own face, and he was grunting, his grunts turning fast into moans. I heard a tooth ping off of the metal newspaper rack.

When he stopped struggling and curled into a ball, I stood up, hands on knees, panting hard. He was still breathing, but other than that, I had no idea how bad he was hurt.

I poked him with my foot. “Hey.”

He whimpered. I swear he did.

Another whimper came from the old gal at the counter, turned now, one fist to her mouth and the other clutching her walker like it might get away. The clerk hadn’t moved. He stared big-eyed at the guy on the floor, then at me.

“Uh …okay, then,” I said, and my voice didn’t sound like my voice. As I turned and hightailed it out of there, the clerk was moving toward the phone. Shit-fire, I was a dead man.

I jumped in my car and drove like a bat, all the way back to Jaypop’s. When I got there, I drove past his house, down the alley and into his garage, where he kept this motorcycle he worked on in his spare time. I came out, pushed the doors shut, and ran, hunkered down, to Jay’s kitchen door and let myself in.

“What you doing coming in the back, man?” he asked. “And where’s the string cheese?”

“We got bigger problems than string cheese,” I told him, and proceeded to give him a rundown on all that had happened.

He laughed. Then his smile vanished, and he said real serious, “We ain’t got bigger problems than string cheese, man. It’s you got the problem. And where’s the three bucks I gave you?” He stuck out his hand for the money.

“You didn’t give me three bucks, remember? Look, man, I may have killed that guy. They’re gonna be after me -- ”

He laughed again. “You? Killed a guy? You and what army? C’mere and sit down, you’re blocking the TV.” After I started shaking so bad I had to sit down, he quit laughing. “You’re serious, aren’t you, Arnold?”

“Y-yeah.” I looked down at my bruised knuckles. “He was bleeding, it was a mess, and the clerk – he was already on the phone when I ran out.”

Jaypop stood up and walked toward the door.

“Where you going?” I asked.

“Well, somebody’s gotta find out what happened. Anyone see you coming in here?”

I shrugged.

“Okay. Sit tight. And if little Jay wakes up, give him a cracker.”

He was out the door. For fifteen minutes I sat shaking and sucking on a warm RC.

Then, there he was back, carrying a plastic sack. And laughing.

I jumped to my feet. “What? What?”

“Well, I go up to the counter and say, ‘Hey, I heard there was a fracas in here while ago.’ The guy says, yeah, and that he’d called an ambulance, and they hauled the bruiser off to the hospital.”

“That old lady, was she okay?”

“Didn’t ask. She wasn’t there. Anyway -- ” he laughed again – “the cops came, too, and the clerk said he told them to look for a wimpy Mexican guy with a ponytail. Said he was amazed how a guy so little could do so much damage.”

The air went out of me and I sank onto the couch.

“String cheese,” he said, dropping the sack into my lap. “And you still owe me three bucks.”

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Consider Grief. Read this Jack Gilbert Poem, and ponder here --


He manages like somebody carrying a box
that is too heavy, first with his arms
underneath.  When their strength gives out,
he moves the hands forward,, hooking them
on the corners, pulling the weight against
his chest.  He moves his thumbs slightly
when the fingers begin to tire, and it makes
different muscles take over.  Afterward,
he carries it on his shoulder, until the blood
drains out of the arm that is stretched up
to steady the box and the arm goes numb.  But now
the man can hold underneath again, so that
he can go on without ever putting the box down.
                                               Jack Gilbert

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A TEASER -- From my novel The Sweet Letting Go, out in November from TURQUOISE MORNING PRESS

       "When Reynolds Ernst, cynical and damaged of heart, returns to the little community of his birth after thirty years’ knocking about, little does he know that he’s about to rediscover the love of his life – only to be faced with the prospect of losing her forever. This is the story of how two people search for, and find, healing and peace in the midst of loss. How they come to believe with all their hearts that love and family are worth the risk."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Mary offers group and individual sessions as follows:
     Thursday morning group, 10 am – 1 pm at Cornerstone CafĂ© in Crestwood -- $20 per session.    
     Those interested in a second, evening session in beginning writing, poetry or memoir may call
           502-552-9578, or email This group will be formed, should there
           be enough interest.
      Private sessions as requested – 103 Logsdon Court, Douglass Hills -- $10 per hour.
      On-line or mail-in submissions for edit or critique, $1 per page. E-mail or send to
           103 Logsdon Court, Louisville, KY 40243.

A couple of old poems , written for -- well, you know who you are. I love you.


Of the women I know and love
some love each other
in that singular way

the way I have loved men – the few men,
one or two –
and I honor these women

for their self-knowledge
the humor and pain in their eyes
the set of their shoulders.

I have wished in my own hard times
that I could be one of them – fueled by passion
for softness and breasts – with the comfort

of knowing that my lover knows
the bleeding, the insanity
reflected by our wheeling moon.

But I am stuck with taste for that alien breed
have all my life been bewitched
by gruff voices, heavy hands

and a whiskery rasp on my skin.
Though I do not love you, sisters
in that way you love each other

I do not love you less –
your beautiful sex.
Constrained to live your twin-spirit life,

could I have carried myself
with your grace?
Could I have carried myself at all?


In spring
he plants big boys
and bright bell peppers.

By August
tomato stalks reach higher
than his head

their globes hung heavy as sex.
The peppers
green and shiny

clang all day long.
Last fall
he buried our sagging jack-o-lantern

Now, beneath this warmer sun
I find astonishment of wide flat leaves

and dream beneath those skirts
the jaggy teeth
bold triangled eyes

a heaviness of autumn-gold.

New Poems by Mary/Ernie O'Dell


She sees the world as chaos overrun
with miracles – the way we heal,
how we hone each other’s rough spots
to bearable nubs -- creek rock polished
by eons of flowing water,
that water spangled by light spiking
through leaves shot with insect speckles,
miniscule mandibles having worked their art.

She grows misty seeing a puddle open
to rain, a fat man in galluses
smiling at his wraith of a wife
or a runny-nosed kid
bent down to tie his brother’s shoe.


They say you should tell the truth
so here it is.
A single dove on a wire
then, raincrow
calling somewhere.
Too hot to walk but I go anyway.
In the interest of truth
I must say I’m not sure if raincrow
was just my daddy’s name for a dove.
How’s that for truth.
I’ve never told it before.
I miss him.
I miss my daddy and I miss
his talk of raincrows.
I have missed the raincrows
until lately when they came again
like lost letters found.

Out here, heat.
More truth: the dog doesn’t care,
squirrels move about in the heat.
Out here, kids hand in hand
up the street toward the pool.
A balding man and his woman
cut across the park.
The raincrow’s calling
but it isn’t about to rain.


Deep in the cells
lies instinct
thrumming the quick
the vivre
a taut thread burning
through grief’s forever.
The patient knot of Never Again
as time’s finger
tamps tight.

She glows.