Amy Barlow Liberatore… stories of lost years, wild times, mental variety, faith, and lots of jazz

Bez, the final frontier

In space, he found a mission, that is,

he found a mission in space

Founded a mission to fit Kirk tight into a tuna can

where he must have found it hard to have found air

drawing what air he could by sucking hard

and hoping nobody got a picture of that mess

Meanwhile, man is murdering the beaches

Squeezing atmosphere ever tighter

Drawing the last blasts of dino poop, sloppy and speedy

to make ever more fuel for Cowboy Jeff Bejezzus to

pop his cork (and champagne) and do the victory dance that

all flabbyass spoiled nimrods perform

when they think they’ve done it just right

(Look, Ma, no hands)

ugh.

© 2021 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For The Sunday Whirl, I think I used just about all the words provided. (Look, Ma, no hands)

Subway, Summer 1988

He sits in comfort, here in the crammed confines
of the sweaty summer subway
As they say in Brooklyn, “It ain’t the heat, it’s the humanity.”
The ticket is a token, but the price is man-spreading white guys
in fine shoes, slick hair, and no car
So lame, these day-trading types
Maybe if he were eight months pregnant (as I am),
he would understand the pull of gravity, that need for a relatively clean bathroom… relatively soon
But he occupies the space of two people
Until I whisper, “Give me your seat, or I swear I will
pee on your shoes so hard the tassels will shrink”
Thus, my discomfort is avenged

© 2021 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For The Sunday Whirl, and damn! I used almost all the words! It feels like winning.

And thanks to my Luka for their contribution, by way of residence in my womb at that moment

The Noisy Neighbor and the Quiet Neighbor

Back in my Buffalo days, sitting on our generous front porch (rather, our landlord’s, but still), we had a view of the whole neighborhood on Ardmore Place. Everything. And every house had a front porch, which was ideal for getting to know people when you’re new to the neighborhood. We had neighbors from every walk of life. Black, brown, white, gay, straight, what I now understand as gender-fluid and queer (that took some learning, and thanks, Luka). No one minded that we were one of “those white families,” in part because I went to each house and introduced myself and talked about my family. My kid’s school had students from more than 20 countries; dialects spoken, 50 or so.

Most folks would call our street a “melting pot,” but hell no, no one was melting into anyone else. This was something better: community within our unique ways of being, of worshiping, of loving, of speaking. People mostly had some grasp of English, but the grandmothers and elders were exempt. This could cause a problem for some of the students, because they might have to take their abuelita to the clinic and serve as her translator, get her scripts filled, etc.

My best friend in our neighborhood was Muna Abdallah, whose kids were Luka’s age. Her son Ramee dragged me down to their house on my first day after the move, “Come have coffee with my mom. She makes the best!” From that first cup of what would best be described as high-octane deep-rich-fullness that poured like molasses and had little crunchy bits in the bottom of the cup, we were fast friends. More on how that grew later on. Let’s just say we moved to Buffalo to live in a heavily Arabic community in August 2001. So yeah, a lot more to say about Muna and co.

There was a house on the corner adjacent to Muna’s house that was a rental. It tended to change hands frequently, in part because it was an absentee landlord who probably tossed people the minute they were late with the rent. They were part of the story of The Noisy Neighbor and the Quiet Neighbor.

The new tenants blasted their music. I mean, blasted, like concert-grade-speakers-in-the-back-yard loud. It didn’t help that their yard was directly across the street from a brick high school, so the sound bounced all over the neighborhood. A couple of neighbors complained to me, because they knew how much we all loved that front porch, sitting, whiling away the early evening hours. And perhaps because I was The White Lady, they kind of figured that I would understand their complaints. (Don’t get me wrong, I was livid that one occupant could wreak havoc on the whole street, but it is more complicated than “Amy wants to work her crossword in peace.”)

I asked them plainly if they had spoken to said neighbor. They blanched. And they expected me to do it, because I was a community organizer by profession and, after all, The White Lady. They figured I had magical powers. (Now, I know that is partly true, but it wasn’t magic. It was my complexion, my melanin-challenged face, that was the source of my power.) I had not introduced myself to the new neighbors when they moved in, either. Looking back, that would have been a good start, but during the move, they swore at their kids a lot, and it turned me off from the get-go.

The next day was Saturday, and they were full-tilt by 11 am, so loud that, when I tried to talk to my sister on the phone, there was way to hear her. So I walked down the block to see if I could manage a compromise.

The family had two tables outside. And I have to tell you, this old musician found they had a professional-grade sound setup. But it was so loud I was wincing. So I waved and smiled and motioned that I wanted to say hello and could they please turn it down a second so we could speak? They turned it down to a dull roar, didn’t smile, knew I was probably there to ask them to turn it down more. And without a word, the man leaned over and (quite theatrically) turned the knob up to even louder than it was before.

So here is one thing I got out of it. The noisy neighbor disturbs the quiet neighbor with their noise. But the quiet neighbor’s quiet never disturbs the noisy neighbor because THE NOISY NEIGHBOR CAN’T HEEEEEARRRR the quiet’s neighbor’s quietude.

The end.

Many thanks to Roger O. Green for his post about neighbors and their complaints/theatrics. In fact, scroll through his blog. You can tell by the variety of topics and links that he is a former librarian! And his taste in music is impeccable. https://www.rogerogreen.com/2021/09/21/seeclickfix-the-neighborhood/

Bring Back My Heart (a song)

Thank you for the visit, it really was sublime
To catch up on the news after all this time
I packed in such a hurry, some things got left behind
So if you wouldn’t mind…

My toothbrush and my dental floss, I left them on the sink
And a lone Peruvian earring, in the living room, I think
Some pictures of my daughter on the table by the door
And my lingerie we left scattered on the floor
It’s really quite the laundry list, but there’s one more thing I missed:

Bring back my heart, return it to me, at the first convenient opportunity
It was left there on the shelf and I had planned to keep it to myself
I didn’t leave it in the bedroom, I’m not blasé
That’s not the place where hearts are given away
Perhaps it was the restaurant, where you took my hand
And told me life had not worked out exactly as you planned

You asked me whether I had hopes to share my life again
And I told you God had plans for me but wouldn’t tell me when
My heart was mine alone, and until we kissed, I thought it had turned to stone

Bring back my heart, we’ll see what’s in store
Make my office gossip when you show up at the door
Bring back my heart, but until you do
I know it’s safe with you

So put it in your pocket, keep it close
Hold it with the treasures you love most
And when you return it, here is what I’ll do:
I will scent it with roses, wrap it in lace
Lay it in the lining of a golden case
And I will give it right back to you

© 1996 Amy Barlow/Beehat Baby Publishing

Many, many years ago, before I knew what the real thing was, I wrote this during a long drive home. Just me, a thermos of coffee, a steno pad, and a Ticonderoga #2. I would pull over, scribble a bit, hum some, and eventually, this song was an actual THING.

Many thanks to my friend Jon Randel for producing this song during a visit to the Upper West Side all those years ago.

Wasn’t until years later that I found out I didn’t have to give up my heart, or any piece of myself, to be loved. And yet, this song lingers. I hope you find your love. And if you have it, I hope you give it attention daily. Amy

The Work of Many Hands (song)

One by one we gather, every Sunday morn
Some have come into this place from the day that they were born
Some awakened lately to the glory of his name
Each has equal favor, ‘cause he loves us all the same

It’s the work of many hands, it’s the sound of many voices
It’s the love of many hearts that make a church

Creating, crafting, singing, or speaking from the heart
Each of us has special gifts that make us who we are
We know that our talents were given from above
The Holy Spirit gives the gift, and we pass it on with love

It’s the work of many hands, it’s the sound of many voices
It’s the love of many hearts that make a church

Someone said the Christian path is narrow and long
On the wider avenues, there’s so much to be done
So feed the hungry, find the friendless, let your spirit soar
You never know when Jesus Christ is walking through the door

It’s the work of many hands, it’s the sound of many voices
It’s the love of many hearts that make a church

© 1997 Amy Barlow, Beehat Baby Publishing

Shout out to Rev. Cliff Aerie of The Oikos Ensemble, who was my pastor at First Congregational Church in Binghamton, NY years ago. Not only did he encourage my songwriting ministry (he produced this track), but he married Lex and me in 1998.

Stay safe and stay blessed, my people. Love, Amy

Loving You Today (a song)

It’s not my fault, I’m not to blame for our stolen kisses and whispered voices
I tried my best, and it’s a shame you couldn’t stay away despite my fashion choices

I didn’t shave my legs, or touch up my roots
I didn’t put on makeup, and even wore my hiking boots
But you see what you want to see, and say what I need to hear
And in your eyes I’ve always felt beautiful and dear
But you came here with your girlfriend, so in my own defense, I’ll say
I didn’t plan on loving you today

I broke out just in time to look my worst for you
It’s guaranteed my kneesocks spoiled the southern view
You see me with your heart, I know, the way I’ve always been
And in your eyes, it’s long ago – and I’m young and sweet again
I knew you both would be here, but I stopped by anyway
I didn’t plan on loving you today

Why can’t you behave – and why do you insist
On turning back the pages to a time when we first kissed
You couldn’t have me then, and I can’t have you now
This is not for keeps, my friend, but I love you anyhow

So maybe we can meet when we both need to smile
For though we live in different worlds, we share a common style
Fate was always strong enough to sabotage my plans
And though I love you endlessly… the rules of love demand
That I didn’t style my hair
And I wore mismatching underwear

I didn’t plan on loving you today
But you loved me anyway

© 1997 Amy Barlow/Beehat Baby Publishing

1977 Venice Beach Sunrise

Back then every morning broke both ways. Salty and sweet

Head already splitting sitting up, sliding into bell bottoms, frayed hems fringed over faded espadrilles

Peasant top, you know how it was, a roach clip on a looooong feather clipped into frantic loopy hair

Sip of last night’s to get me out the door, down to Ruby’s

Step out near the canals, the shaggy likewise join the journey

Who’s holding? Lights up, the high travels along the line of linked arms like a fuse

Snickersnorting to the boardwalk, Jingles and Frank ready for busking

All the lovely boys building bodies to bodacious on the beach, sand sticking to evvvvvery sinewed limb, pump pump bump

Now we can smell the coffee smell the bacon smell half the customers too, or at least their smoke

The clatter of breakfast – and always smiling Ruby (“somebody hit the juke for Ray Charles!” and his voice, “They saaaaay, Ruby, you’re like a dreeeeeeeam…”) She was 100% movement but never rushed us

Lazy, luxurious breakfast, runny eggs, and how they got bacon that crispy while retaining every bit of grease that came off the hog is a mystery of faith

OJ from the carton (back when we still called it that) not fresh, but we only drank it for the sugar hit

And so Sunday began. We were together. We had survived another Saturday night. And as we ramshackled back onto the mostly deserted boardwalk, it never occurred to us that something else might happen. That soon, Ruby’s place would turn into Starbucks; all the trash on the beach would become all the Eurotrash in the tragically samesame cafes; and eventually, Jingles might get a ticket for loitering.

Not yet. We didn’t have a clue that it was coming: the encroachment of developers, the diaspora of cool. I can still smell Sunday morning, the sweet greasy and the sweat weedy.

Thanks to my old friend Roger Green for kicking me in the butt to post something! He’s at www.rogerogreen.com

Tiny House

People have lots of opinions
about religion
about politics
about morals
about what a family should look like
and who should be allowed to Thanksgiving dinner

But I never realized how opinionated people could be
until I told them about our plans to retire in a tiny home

The astonishment, the disbelief
And then it really begins… the inquisition, the condemnation
The comments that show just how little people care about your feelings

-Tiny houses are a fad
-They are crappy structures, I saw that on HGTV
-Are you going to just roam around the country for the rest of your lives?
-Don’t you want a REAL HOME? (House as Pinocchio)
-They’ll make you live in a trailer park (this insults all the cool folks who live in trailers and RVs, frankly)
-You don’t really buy into that Green New Deal stuff, do you?
-Do you really want to compost your poop?

The answers:
If it’s a fad, we’ll bring it round to being sensible (and wonderful)
We want to leave the world a little less crappy for our kids
Homes are as real as people allow them to be
Home has been hundreds of apartments for decades
for both of us, as well as our child, for as long as we can remember,
and we always made it work

It’s only BS if you buy into the paradigm
And sure, managing composting toilets is tricky
But again, leaving the world less crappy is kind of the point

So spare me the whining
or you won’t get invited to experience the fabulousness of it all

(c) 2019 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For ABC Wednesday, the letter is T
T for Tiny, T for Tremendous
T for ‘Take That, Naysayers’
T for Trust

Lex and I spend hours poring over websites and drawing diagrams. The biggest problem will be which city and where to park it. Our list of Must Haves gets shorter and shorter. We are “three hots and a cot” people, always have been. Hell, I stopped counting after 40 moves! (Of course, some of those were couches…) As long as Lex and I can figure out the snoring thing and the ‘Mommy Needs A Fan All The Time’ thing, we’ll be fine. Peace, Amy

Cleaning House

Looking forward to old age, to age-old dreams
We decided to Go Tiny
Minimalize
Buy a little crackerbox and live the Keebler life

It won’t be for a long while
But I have started shedding stuff
it peels off daily
Flotsam off the shelves
Out of closets
So much stuff

Stephanie said, “But you don’t have much stuff”
I so, SO get what she means
We are actually simple people
Complicated but unencumbered

It’s part of the pastoral couple thingie

And yet, daily, I find piles to move along
Clothes I will never wear
Art supplies I have not used
(Sure, I might take up painting again,
but the acres of acrylics
the pall of palettes
oy.)

So St. Vinny’s (patron saint of people who just moved into a new place and really need stuff) takes on my burdens
I will burn a candle at his altar

Fly, my pretty things
Fly and roost on someone else’s house
Our nest will be empty (mostly)

again

(c) Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

This Room

She was a shy little girl

But the years saw her follow a dazzlebright dream

Sometimes salty with her tears, but free and blazing and true, that spotlight
the place where fear faces down a mighty shout
and the shout wins

Keeping it upright for so long, night after night, year after year, life after the death of innocence and rebirth into a style that was right and real

She had more class in her little finger than those girls from school had in their bigass suburban bedroom closets

She was a gold mine of good stories and
the kind of crooked wisdom that comes from living out loud and voraciously

“This life is mine,” she said

“This room is better for having me in it,” she breathed

And they knew she was right
© 2019 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For The Sunday Whirl, the words were style, finger, light, mine, shy, salt, collide. Also follow, cats, and a couple of others, but I didn’t have the wherewithal after a full day of church to get them all in!! Peace, Amy