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

Category Archives: City Life

ABC Wednesday, brought to you by the letter, “Z”! (Do we start on the Cyrillic alphabet now?) Also at the poetic collective, Poets United.

This poem is based on the phenomenon that effectively destroyed my piano-bar career… Amy

Zithromax (Think Before Lighting Up Indoors)

A smoky club, the trapped wait staff
take your orders and get the shaft.

While you puff a cig or two,
others do just as you do.

You can leave and breathe fresh air;
singers, barkeeps, stuck in there

Low-wage job with no insurance;
Z-pac samples help endurance.

When you blithely light that match
think of what the workers catch.

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil


Three Word Wednesday prompted us with: Cease, Heat, and Nasty. A million ways you can go with that, but I was reminded of those punishing Manhattan summers. Thom G, thinking of you and my other NYC friends now.

This is also at our poetry collective, Poets United, which (if you scroll down to the second article) has an interview with… MOI! I was so honored. Thanks again, Sherry Blue Sky, for tapping into my brain. A brave chore, that! Amy

City Summer

City sidewalks
drink in summer heat
absorbing as through pores and
releasing a scalded, nasty smell:

Part spilled lattes
Parts updraft of subway tracks, their litter and rats
Part dog who missed the tree
Part dog owner who didn’t bring a plastic bag

Part bare feet of the homeless,
never to cease their quest for
the shelter of a bit of shade

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil


Damp Laundry

Mom and damp laundry
Despite new products, incensed:
The skid marks remained

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For Three Word Wednesday:  Damp, Incensed, Skid

…and your second helping (hope you already ate dinner!):

Rank

The new apartment was spotless:
Creamy carpets calming, yet daring any mud
to tread or trespass.

Spacious closets; bathroom, a religious experience.
We moved in, delighted to have found
a small space offering big comfort.

Then I stepped into the hallway
shared by a dozen apartment front doors.
Smacked in the schnozz by a complicated, rank odor.

Some good:  Spices, worthy chefs working ethnic magic.
Much more body odor… culturally acceptable
where the bodies originated, harking back to my East Side days.

Worst – cigarette smoke sneaking out to play hookie,
curling, wending its way from under some front doors.
Lingering like a London pea-souper, toxic fog.

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
ABC Wednesday – R, and Poetic Asides, “Telling it like it is.” Also at my poetic home-away-from-blog, Poets United!


Women’s Work
(a cento, from Carl Sandburg’s “Working Girls”)

over the way, the women who know each one the
lunches wrapped in newspapers under their arms
so here are always the others, those who have been
going, so many with a peach bloom of young years
arms that passed around their waists and the fingers

woman life I feel a wonder about where it is all
on the downtown streets
that played in their hair

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore

From We Write Poems, a prompt for a cento: Another poet’s writing, taking only certain lines and rearranging them to form a new poem. These lines are from my favorite poet, Carl Sandburg, and his poem, “Working Girls.” Also posted at my poetic home, Poets United, where you can find a plethora of amazing poets on their right sidebar, constantly updating with links.


Ignore the racist stereotypes and see true athleticism, artistry and energy. The incomparable Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, and the poem follows. Watch the video first; I dare you not to be amazed. Band is Slim Galliard and Slam Stewart; Slam spent his last years in my hometown, Binghamton, NY. A gentle, sweet man who never lost his soulful voice and way with a bass.

Lindy Hoppers

Back when jazz was hot
When the drums meant dancin
jitterbuggin, Lindy Hoppin
shimmyin, shakin your sugar…

Lil, Grace, and Fancy
flounced and flirted in the finer clubs
Gracie, she was fine on the dance floor
Lil had more meat on her bones,
made lifting for the Lindy doubtful
Still, she clapped and hooted off on the side
beer in one hand, the other tucked in Slim’s front pocket

Now, Fancy was a flimsy-thin frail
made for stompin at the Savoy
When the band commenced to wailin
she’d be flyin over Jimmy’s head,
flung between his legs and back up again
She shined like a new penny,
bronze and easy rollin

Her real name was Flo
but once they saw her dance
hellzapoppin on that floor
they renamed her Fancy

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For Three Word Wednesday: Thin, Jitter, Grace, blog


At We Write Poems, a prompt went out: Write a poem about writing a poem. You never know when or where the inspiration will strike. I’ve long since given up on sitting down and deciding to produce something… and yet, the more I write, the more I want to write!

This poem is also posted at Writer’s Island, where I’m posting daily for National Poetry Writing Month. Amy

Prelude to a Poem

Teapot screams meeeeeEEEEEEEE
demanding attention
Drip of the French Press into the mug
Pressing grounds through as
ground falls from under my feet
taking me back to that cafe in the Village where…

Drifting with the breeze down State Street
Lots of UW students hang and hacky-sack here
Whole lives ahead of them
One potent whiff of a fattie gives me
a contact high and suddenly I’m on Venice Beach…

We march in solidarity with unions at
Madison’s Capitol Dome
The golden statue atop is called Miss Forward
The governor inside is called Mister Backward
My anger at injustice boils inside my gut
I plop down on the pavement and start to
scribble on the back of my sign…

Startled awake, sweating, full-body tremble
recalling those nights when
a little girl was tucked in tight until
HE decided it was her turn
I switch on the light – it’s NOW, dammit, not THEN!
I pick up a pen…

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil


Sunday Scribblings wanted to hear thoughts about December. Long ago and far away, I was a Manhattanite…

CITY SNOW AT EVENING

Central Park in December
At dusk the sun has dipped below
the stark skyline
casting reflections of blue
on the new-fallen snow

It’s as if even the snow knows
it’s part of an urban landscape
the color of steel and
the crunchy crust it so readily forms
As if to say,
“Hey, there’s nothing fluffy to see here
Move along, now”

Making my way across 72nd Street
the heat of the subway has already risen
and melted this fresh blessing
into muddy pools of rusted slush

It’s City snow, all right
It won’t last the night

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil


Anyone who’s thought of writing poetry should check out Three Word Wednesday. That’s the heart of it – you get three words to play with, once a week. If you have a blog, link your poem to the site and get visits from other poets, then visit them back… if you don’t have a blog, click on the names listed, and you’ll see what they have done! It’s a nice way to get started in poetry. Also: Leave a pad and paper in three places: In the bathroom (!), by your bed, and next to where you usually waste time watching reality TV! You just might come up with something! Peace, Amy

IN LEANER TIMES

We the hardscrabbles
etched our names on our forearms
lest we be found in a ditch
with no one to utter our names

The nights in dim pubs
speaking easily of all we intended to do
dabbling in art, thinking youth and inspiration
would always be on tap, like Guinness

Those were the leaner times
Now most sit in cubicles or
stand in unemployment lines
remembering the joy of possessing nothing

…save inspiration

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil


My dear friend George emailed me a link with recent pictures from The Strand, one of many grand old theatres in our hometown of Binghamton, NY.  Those images inspired this poem.  Thanks, George!

THE STRAND THEATRE, BINGHAMTON, NY

She was what they used to call A Grande Dame:
Stately, opulent, inspiring awe and delight.
Follow me back in time…

Look up: Tiffany crown.
Look down: Plush carpet.
Look around: Roomy seats, wide stage, velvet curtain, affording itinerant vaudevillians room to slay ‘em with a joke (told 2,380 times from Omaha to Syracuse, but here, heard by fresh ears, rewarded with belly laughs).
Room for dancers to tap sway meringue swing do their thing.
Singers thrived on the Strand’s perfect acoustics.

As with all perfect miracles on earth,
vaudeville died,
and She, the stately Grande Dame,
found her spacious stage usurped by a screen.

Movies drifted from Keaton to Talmadge
Robert Taylor to Rod Taylor
to Johnny Rodd (“Deep Throat played there;
the Art Theatre was deemed too small,
its floor sticky with patrons’ souvenirs)

Eventually, like even the gamest of girls,
she was abandoned.
Now she’s a shell of her former shined and
shimmering self, laid low by scavengers
and an abortive attempt at plastic surgery.

But within, her heart beats in steady memories.
Echoes of Liberace, who packed the house
(winking at fawning old ladies and
joking about his brother George).

Echoes of Ish Kabibble and Hugh Herbert,
leaving ‘em in stitches.

Echoes of the pit band, all local musicians
earning a decent living doing what they loved.

Echoes of singers whose names are remembered
only by a cloud of witnesses floating in
a plaster-dust atmosphere
or written on peeling wallpaper.

A strand of pearls, unstrung, save in our hearts.

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil


At Big Tent Poetry, we were asked to think long and hard about our dwellings… then write about a favorite place. I knew right away where my heart lay.

OUR KITCHEN (for Lex)

In times long passed,
the kitchen hearth was
the heart of every home.
Scent of drying herbs
a potpourri of potted and garden delights.
Fresh-baked bread beckoning.

Perhaps a rocking chair for Gram
as she sat and choreographed
the preparation of the evening meal.
And always, a pot of coffee.

Our own kitchen is quite small,
but the walls, tomato red, stir appetites.
We collaborate on meals:
Here’s the wooden board, I’ll chop veggies
while you brown the chicken.
You, the king of piecrust, rule the rolling pin
while I slice apples and stir in spices.
Occasionally, we bump butts, laughing.
Small space, but a romantic place.

Our kitchen is the heart of our home.
Rented, but ours, still
because we’ve made it so.
The cat watches longingly from his perch
awaiting his shre.
We cook, bake, talk, share
and pray over the meal we prepare,
for patience, for love to loom large
over the rest of the world. As for me and mine,
we are at peace.

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil