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

Category Archives: Family

Ghost of Mama, Passed

Damnedest thing, this smell
Can’t get it out of hair
nor clothes nor bedding

Cigarette smoke
That shit cost me a career

Two weeks of stench
clinging like a needy ex
stalking me like that one guy who…

Here comes freakazoid strange:
Niece calls me, nervous, feels like
“Grandma is trying to say something
to me, it’s important”

Now, I was Charlotte’s listening daughter
But Kati was Grandma’s smoking buddy
They sat and puffed for hours
while I choked in the next room
(but grinning because, hey,
Charlotte smoking and hacking was
still better than Charlotte drinking)

Twentysome years Mom’s been dead
After so much time, you think?
Charlotte clouding me with smoke
and Kati still puffing, could it be?

Mama, we are listening
Tell us what to do

© 2014 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

At Imaginary Garden With Real Toads, we’re playing, Play it Again, Toads! Going back to an old prompt. First came Ella, invoking Halloween; then, there was a site of lines from ghost poems, one of which we must incorporate into our poem.

One struck me, from Ghost by Paul Mariani: After so much time you think… although I rephrased it for effect.

The experience in my poem is real. It could be weaning off a psych med, although the side effect was not confirmed by my psychiatrist. Maybe some old secondhand smoke finally draining out of my sinuses, like old toxins? Possibly a denim jacket from St. Vincent de Paul that I didn’t launder enough before wearing a few days in a row? It could be something ‘brainiacal,’ and for that I will consult my physician Monday.

But I think it’s Mom, I really do! (Especially because I washed the bejeezus out of the jacket and used a Netipot on my sinuses…)  Guess I’m calling Kati tomorrow after church!  Peace, Amy (although now I freaked myself out and I probably won’t sleep much.  Such is the questionable wisdom of creating ghost stories before bedtime!)


Orion, Reimagined (a pleiade)
In memory of Wilmot Dunn, stargazer

Old Grandpa Dunn and Charlotte
Out to the telescope shack
(over Grandma’s dead body…
only money saved, for that?)
“On left, three stars, that’s O’Toole.
One Irish constellation.”
Obviously, Grandpa fibbed!

© 2014 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For dverse Poets Pub, where (while sipping a fine Wisconsin microbrew (Bitter Woman, tastes just like it sounds!), I wrote to the prompt, a new form called a PLEIADE. “Inspired by “Pleiades,” a star cluster in Taurus constellation, also called the ‘Seven Sisters’ (Greek Mythology).” Seven lines, seven syllables, plus the first letter of each line must match the first letter of the title. I found this doubly delightful because I could remember Grandpa Dunn, my wonderful second great-grandfather.

The Story: My mother’s Great-grandma Dunn was mortified when her mischievous, spendthrift husband used their entire life savings from his work as a railroad conductor to buy a state-of-the-art telescope. He proceeded to build a shack around it, which Grandma referred to as “the Shithouse,” both for her opinion of the endeavor… and for the state in which Grandpa found himself after the purchase. (Can’t blame her. This was mid-1930s Depression Iowa.)

Wilmot Dunn was a dreamer. Mom said he had many, many graphs written up of a proposed rocket ship to the moon, and, after Grandpa Dunn died, little Charlotte asked if she could keep all his charts and writings. Grandma had already donated the telescope to Drake University, per Grandpa’s wishes. The writings, she left in the Shithouse, which she promptly doused with kerosene and burned. Mom was heartbroken, but it instilled in her the telling of his stories to me, and it’s still a part of that rich Shanty Irish oral tradition in my family! Peace, Amy


Rattling the Cage
(Rollie Triptych, Part III)

Rollie Matt 001
Perfect timing for
a horrible outcome
On impulse, we drove
to Binghamton for a visit

Stayed with my folks
Call at 5 am, Mom
jostled me awake
“Rollie’s in the E.R!”

He’d sat up in bed
Said, “I can’t breathe”
and all 300 pounds of him
flopped back, dead
Rollie Casey Teddy Bears 001
Hospital. “He’s gone, Amer.”
But his son turned 1 last week
Older son only 4
I was so pissed at God

Funeral, Baptist Church
His folks’ choice, wife’s
voice unheard, unheeded
Pastor, on a roll, droned on

“Rollie’s above with Jesus”
(when his true loves were his wife,
a beer, a bong, and a beer bong)
“Blah blah blah Jesus blah blah”

Mid-sermon, a THUD
A big one, stopped preacher
mid-pontification
about the Pearly Gates

Sis whispered, “What was that?”
Couldn’t help my reply
“Rollie turning in his casket”
We cracked up, but good

Shoulders shaking and
folks behind us thought
we were sobbing, patted
support on our shoulders

Which made us laugh harder
Yowza, leave it to Rollie
prankster, stoner, merry-maker
To poke us with one last joke

© 2014 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

The final chapter of The Book Of Roland Newton. Rollie died at 36 of an embolism.  Pictured above with older son Matt, around age 2, and younger son Casey on his first birthday, surrounded by the teddy bears that always remind me of their dad.  Matt and Casey are young men now, both charting their different courses.  I wish they knew their dad from more that just stories told – usually funny ones.  Everyone should have a Rollie in their lives.

This is for ABC Wednesday… Y is for Yowza and Young.  Peace, Amy


“…to get a drink?!”
Connie Lee Francis
Rollie was funny as hell but
in those days, ‘queer’ jokes were
all the rage (except around me)
But Rol never made fun of local queens
or butch girls who beat the pavement
in biker boots back in Bingo

Walking Manhattan with Rollie and Jo
and tomorrow morning’s groom
(later, my ex-husband)
All my fave boys were there
We took my family for
a walk on the sparkly side

Drag show, which bar?
We walked in to claim our
Night Before Wedding toast
(most men have bachelor parties;
I’ll give my ex credit for that)
Drag star, Connie Lee Francis

Finished “Where the Boys Are”
Stood at bar, waving glove at
bartender, then a flirty falsetto,
“What does a girl have to do…”
Thirsty girl, she dropped to baritone
“BOURBON ON THE ROCKS!”

We didn’t have a proper laugh
until later – the whole thing
The setting, the show
Her range of voice; she had
no choice. Like I said…
Thirsty girl

© 2014 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

The second of three consecutive poem/stories about my late brother-in-law, Rollie Newton.

Matt and Casey, this one’s for you. Bet you didn’t know your dad rolled this cool. Love you guys.  I will link this up with an Open Post this week as well.  Peace, Amy


Rollie Bob Amy Twirl N Puke

Rollie, Amy, and Bob, July 1984

Pre-Wedding Surprise (Rollie, Part I)

What a night
Jo and Rollie drove down
from our hometown to NYC
We chowed Chinese, then
scrabbled cross Canal
A little Italian style

La Bella Ferrara
Sinatra-stacked juke
“Summer Wind” as we
strolled in for cannoli
Surprise! Down the block
in full swing was

the San Genaro Festival
Smiling street vendors
Splendy Christmas lights
Rides, rides, rides
Rollie, Bob and I fly
spinning on the Twirl N Puke

Bob’s brother Roy
brought his camera and
just for fun, with arms
stretched above his head,
snapped photos – but didn’t
know what would develop

Who would know he’d
hit the jackpot shot
Four years later,
Rollie was gone gone gone
This happenstance photo
is how he lives on

© 2014 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

This is the first of a TRIPTYCH about Rollie.  If you want to read more, I just posted #2m and the third will probably go up Tuesday or Wednesday.  Check back then if you wish!

dverse Poets asked for poems with repeated words or phrases. This was written yesterday, so I suppose it was meant to be!  Also submitting to Imaginary Garden With Real Toads’ Open Link Monday.

Bob (now Rob) was my first husband, father of Riley. His brother Roy has the most incredible luck – timing – he’s a drummer! Rollie was my sister Jo’s husband; more about him as we go through a three-day reflection on a sweet man who died suddenly – and far too soon. Check out the pic again and see the big man with the big heart. Peace, Amy


Letter to Blanche

Dear Grandma Blanche,

I know it’s been a long time
since I have written
I was only seven
when you met heaven

But I want you to know
in case you’re not watching
that as I grew
I was more like you

Sure, crossword puzzles and
acrostics and such we share,
but playing by ear?
Piano, my dear!

That gift of gab we were
both born/cursed with
Talking to all
Talking to walls…

Yes, I got that, too
Manic depression, haunting
Sometimes “crazy,”
sometimes “lazy”

in the eyes of others, that is,
bound as they are by convention
They don’t see through
like we do

Thanks for teaching me manners,
That conversation with your hostess is never
better than your words
with servers of hors d’oeuvres

Thank you for the music knack
the restless spirit, the lifelong struggle
And if I learn it
Let me earn it

Love, Amer

© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

dverse Poetry Pub wanted us to harken back to the age of writing letters. I’ve been writing more letters lately, if only to help the struggling post office. But writing a letter to someone dear who’s dead is a challenge.

I write about Blanche, my maternal grandmother, a lot. Gone for some 50 years, I still feel her presence in my life. She had that knack of talking to people where they were, no matter what race, gender orientation… she spoke truth to power and often ending up in a cruel sanitarium for doing so. She is my HERO. God rest your soul, Blanche. Love, Amy

This is also “in the margins” at my poetic lily pad, Imaginary Garden With Real Toads.


Milk Shakes and Enemas

Some doctors are too strict about
a pregnant woman’s “dos” and don’ts”
So I went to a good midwife
so didn’t issue “can’ts” or “won’ts”

I kept up with my calcium
the folic acid, fruit treats, too
But when the temp hit 1-0-3
I called her, whining “What to do?

“I’m sweating like a roasted pig
I’ve showered cold three times today
I need the consummate relief…
I need it NOW, without delay!”

“You’re nine months in, due any day
May I suggest, indulge yourself
Choose something cold and make it sweet
Go get the blender off the shelf”

Now Baby kicked up quite the storm,
I took it as an omen good
Some chocolate ice cream, Hershey sauce
The ultra in forbidden food

Plopped by the air conditioner
set on Freeze Off My Toes,
as Baby did the Caffeine Dance
my smile bloomed like a perfect rose

Of course, that night, my water broke
and labor quickly did commence
with my intestines like a brick…
The milk shake, oy! No common sense

Now, enemas are never fun
Less so when huffing through the pain
Were I another babe to bear,
no third-trimester shakes again

© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Amy Laura Strangle
And they all lived happily ever after
(Image from Amy’s private collection, pls. do not duplicate)

Poetic Bloomings wanted a poem about two contrasting things. This was the first “odd couple” to come to mind, and it’s a true story, ugh. The only good thing that came out of that ordeal (I spared you the boomerang Gatorade!) was Riley.

Also linked to my little slice of heaven, Imaginary Garden With Read Toads’ Open Link Monday!


Blanche, Ruth, Grandma Herrick 001
Grandma Blanche, Ruth’s mom, and Ruth, “back in the day”

Rasslin’ and Roller Derby with Ruthie

She’s two glasses into
Dad’s homemade saki
and it’s only noon.
“Gettem! Crushem!”

Auntie Ruth, banging on her tray,
rocking her wheelchair with
with fearsome might, and she’s
pretty tight. Saturday Rassling.

“That fight, we shoulda had
money on it, Amer,” she smiles.
I’m 12 and her best companion
since she moved in with the family.

“Where’s the National IN-quirer?”
I wave it and remind her, “First,
Roller Derby, then, the world news.”
Time for Joanie Weston, Amazon.

Old-school roller derby, women
big as fridges scooting, scrapping,
scraped up and bruised. Unlike the
rassling, these girls are out for blood.

“That Joanie must be hell on her husband,”
she snickers, clicking her false teeth.
“One more snort, Amer.” I fill her
punch cup with Dad’s toxic moonshine.

“Ruthie, something tells me Joanie Weston
isn’t married,” I offer. “You remember
Aunt Frank?” Frances, the loner sister in
cowboy boots with a femme friend.

“Yup. You think it’s that way with
Joanie?” I nod assuredly. “Well,” says
Ruthie thoughtfully, “then I hope she has
a nice girlfriend, like Frankie did.” Wink.

Roller Derby ends; Joanie and her team are
victorious once again. “And now,” parking
my sneaks on a table, “The evening news.”
ALIEN MEETS NIXON AT WHITE HOUSE

© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
Image from Amy’s collection; please do not copy family photos.

Another from Mom’s side of the family, the irrepressible Ruth Stoll, sister of Grandma Blanche Laughlin. Auntie Ruth moved in with us after her 98-year-old mother died. Ruthie would get so potted on saki that all the wooden baseboards were scratched up from bad steering!  She was a pistol and kept the whole family hopping, especially on penny-ante poker night (we used the same pennies over and over again and put them back in the cup when we were done).

For ABC Wednesday (R) and my two poetic roller rinks, Poets United and Imaginary Garden With Real Toads.


THE JOURNEY

Wriggled, writhed headfirst
down a one-way tunnel
Saw a pinpoint of light
Of hope

Squeezed, squished
through the door
into the light

Boogermeister suction

But finally
bundled, bawling
Soothed by mama’s waiting breast

© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Trifecta wanted exactly 33 words about “new beginnings.” Can’t think of one better for my daughter, nor for myself. The journey continues – she in California, artist on fire; me in the chill of Wisconsin, warmth all in my heart.

We always called the blue suction bulb the “Boogermeister.” A family thing, like “melty and weird” and “migdo pigdo.” Ah, yes, my family keeps me sane! Peace, Amy


I love the blog, “Imaginary Garden with Real Toads,” several writers who toss out different prompts. I saw Kerry’s challenge to write from the oral tradition, a story one would tell a small audience seated on the rug all around. Instantly I heard my grandma Blanche and imagined how she might tell of her long-ago relatives in the old country. I don’t do prose very often, but I do hope you enjoy this, offered with all my Shanty Irish heart. Peace, Amy

Long Ago and Far Away (the soil from which I spring)

Long ago, our ancestors dwelt far away, in a harsh land. Soil so rocky, for every shovel that dug in, two stones came out, and the walls and cottages were built with these. What was a hindrance became a treasure.

Men and tall enough boys tilled the landlords’ fields or worked the mines. Hardship was their way of life; the flintiest labor therefore must be rewarded in a friendly, communal atmosphere. Those who had pushed a plow or descended into the pitch black nether to dig for coal gathered nightly at the public meeting house, which was meant for all meetings pertaining to village life, but mostly beloved for its bar.  Every village had a “pub,” as well as a church or two (the second being Anglican, depending on how England’s will held sway in town).

Soon, a tankard was banged on the bar and silence would come over them like a fog. A singer – Lord, you cannot toss a pebble in all of Eire without hitting a fine tenor! Someone offered a song. The verse was his to sing, and all voices joined in on the chorus. Some were mournful, in minor key, recalling a death or the loss of a plot of land, such as “Four Fields.” Others were rollicking, bawdy reels sung so loud they’d bring on the need for “just one more drink, and then I’ll see the missus.”

Meanwhile, the lady of the house, having milked the cow, drawn water from the well for washing faces of little ones, cleaning clothes, and scrubbing floors on her knees; having beaten blankets, spanked a naughty one or cupped another’s face in her palm, chopped wood for the fireplace to keep the house warm and roast the meat, stoked the stove for baking and invited the widow over to gossip over a cup of tea; having worked miracles with the potatoes yet again, fed the children, told them a story before prayers and kisses… After all this, she’d sit in her rocking chair, waiting for her man to stumble in, doff his hat, and eat his portion.

Then it was up the stairs together and, should the drink not have deprived him of his manhood, they would have a go at making another baby. As for how that happens, my dears, well, that would be a story for another day…

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
Also at my poetic pub, Poets United, for their Poetry Pantry!
For Imaginary Garden with Real Toads, ancestry, oral tradition