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

Category Archives: History


Face like a barn door
Heart of a lioness; she
craved justice for all

Franklin got the press
But her work on behalf of
others is legend

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For ABC Wednesday, brought to you by the letter “E,” and for my poetic haven, Poets United.

Eleanor Roosevelt was, in my opinion, the greatest First Lady in history.  Not only was she an invaluable advisor to her husband, but she constantly fought for human rights, for women’s causes… and she did so knowing that she was neither “comely” nor possessing of any powers other than her own personal tenacity.  She loved Nancy Hickock (AKA “Hick”) for years, and although her embarrassed family attempted to destroy any evidence of that relationship, many letters survived.  Franklin, likewise, had extramarital affairs; however, they remained a couple committed to the common good.

Eleanor is a hero of mine.  A class act, a diplomat, she could talk to haves and have-nots with equal comfort and lucidity.  She was, as they used to say, “a game girl,” ready for anything.  God rest her soul.  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

Having been passed over for The Rapture – oh, it’s been rescheduled for October now. How many millions has this crotchety fool made, donated by suckers who want to “be right”? I am now Left Behind (nice behind, and I’m most assuredly Left!) to ponder not the End of Days, but the Beginning.

(And guys, please this is “to laugh.” I love y’all, as you know from my comments on your posts. Couldn’t avoid having some fun with this one, especially after all the crap creation (and the banks and oil companies) have put us through during the past few months.) Amy

Creation, From a Woman’s P.O.V.

First there was God.
A grey-haired, bearded Dude who created
the heavens, the waters, wind, rain, tornadoes, and dirt.
Also the platypus, ostrich, and armadillo,
just for shits and giggles.

Then He made cows, pig, sheep, and other
exploitable creatures, for food and, well, stuff.
But who, thought the Dude, would be able to
exploit them to the max, and with the most
barbaric methods? MAN! And I’ll make him
Just Like Me, except he’ll have to wait for
the beard and the grey to set in.
Like Me, but a facsimile.

God named him Adam, later saying, “It’s short for
A Damned Mistake,” after the H-bomb leveled Hiroshima.

Then the man was lonely, so God created Dog.
But the man was not lonely in that way, so God said,
“Here let me show you how to inflict maximum pain
in the animals I gave you (but go easy on the dog),”
and performed non-anaesthetized surgery,
grabbing a rib out of the man’s side.

“OMG!” screamed the man.
“What?” said God.

The rib somehow got turned into a woman named Eve
(short for, “Eventually the pain will stop,” meaning the surgery).

Then came the Great Apple Debate: Who really did worse?
Eve, for talking it over with the snake and deciding to take the apple,
or Adam, for saying, “Whatever,” and eating without thought,
then blabbing to God that it was all Eve’s fault?

Adding insult to hasty judgment, Eve not only needed
more clothing than the Adam; she got a monthly bout with cramps,
as well as nauseatingly painful childbirth, when God could have
let her drop ‘em like tadpoles. But NOOOOOOO…

God didn’t bother to create marriage;
Adam and Eve just went at it.
Two brothers: One killed the other.
Dudes are violent, women suffer.
Creation was a crappy deal for females
and has pretty much remained so since Day Six.

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

This Creation prompt will appear (if I remember) on next Wednesday’s “We Write Poems” blog; it will automatically feed to my poetry home, Poets United. Peace to all, Amy

Poetic Asides had an interesting challenge: “A World Without ____________.” Yeah, go figure how this one came to mind (wink)! Amy

A World Without Gay Men (what a bore)

No Dr. Kildare
Nor “Night and Day”
No “Pillow Talk”
‘cause Rock was gay

No Sistine Chapel
Virtruvian Man
No Mona Lisa
No inventions grand

No Karloff’s Monster
(James Whale’s work of art)
No Benjamin Britten
Johnny Mathis, my heart

Gershwin, Sweet
Embraceable You,
the Man I Love
is a classic, it’s true

Greg Louganis’
diving perfection
Leonard Bernstein’s
symphonic direction

The list could go on
til night turns to day
but what a dull world
without men born that way

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Also posted at my NaPoWriMo home, Writer’s Island, and at Poets United.

Something I’ve been wanting to say for a long time… ever since I saw a Confederate flag flying at the same height as an American flag in a redneck’s front yard – in upstate New York. Amy

Black History… Month?

Here’s the mystery:
Why only one month for Black history?
Relegated to February, one month
to cover an entire race that rose from
being imprisoned on slave ships, dragged ashore in shackles
to making indelible marks on all of American society

Who suffered their families broken first by
slave owners and later by well-intentioned
but fatally flawed Welfare, driving dads away

Whose call and response field songs, codes for escape
shaped a new tradition of gospel in churches
Who created jazz in all its magnificent manifestations
Who literally built the White House (ironically named)
Who built the South and suffered under the Confederate flag
Whose voices and actions loom large in the tapestry of our nation

The witness of Sojourner Truth (“Ain’t I a woman?”)
The poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, Rita Dove, Maya Angelou
The voices of Billie, Bessie, Ma Rainey, Leontyne Price, Marian Anderson
The brass of Louis, the class of Duke
The shy brilliance of Strayhorn, the in-your-face of Miles
The Harlem Renaissance, producing unfathomable beauty and power

The perseverance of the Negro Leagues
The courage of Jackie Robinson, the sleekness of Jesse Owens
The contemporary finesse of Venus, Serena, Tai Babilonia, and yes, Tiger

Courage under fire.
The energy of Crispus Attucks, fighting British troops
The Buffalo Soldiers, the Tuskegee Airmen
There was never a war fought by America
that didn’t include Black troops

Philosophy and social justice.
The words of Frederick O. Douglass
The wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The burden shouldered by Coretta after his burial
The grassroots activism of Rosa Parks (no, she didn’t just decide
she was tired – it was a planned act of nonviolent protest)
The battered, brutalized child Emmett Till whose death
shone a light on lynchings all over the South
Listen, can you hear it? “Southern trees bear a strange fruit…”

Our ancestors, for we all came from that continent, regardless of
how far our tribes were scattered around the globe
reduced to one month, when Sylvia’s Beans go on sale at the market
and kids hear about George Washington Carver and peanut butter
and a few lines about Rosa, Martin, and how “Lincoln freed the slaves”
A little blurb about Bill Cosby on TV, Louis Armstrong singing “Hello, Dolly”
And that’s that

Black history is OUR history.
From slavery to freed citizens
From abolitionists to suffragettes
The struggle, oppression
and one triumphant moment on an election day
(Indonesian, my ass)
The music, the invention, the philosophy, the art, the daring

One month? Really?

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For Poetic Asides’ “Spring” prompt, and for Three Word Wednesday (Dual, Identical, Volley).  She was the world’s first superstar, captivating us – whether as a Hollywood home-wrecker, star of one of the biggest box-office losers of all time (Cleopatra, in which she met her match, Richard Burton… so who really lost there?), and finally, fulfilling her promise as a person of influence by becoming one of the world’s most vehement activists in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  God rest and keep you, Elizabeth Taylor.

Liz (Farewell)

Young Elizabeth, whose eyes were
dual violet gemstones, capturing the hearts
of a generation: Velvet Brown
astride her beloved racehorse, Pie.

Liz. the National Bitch who stole Eddie Fisher’s heart
from America’s Sweetheart, Debbie Reynolds
Sexy Liz, who married seven times
(including twice to an identical husband, Richard Burton).

Elizabeth Taylor, survivor of disease,
bad press, bad marriages… redeemed by activism;
who threw an early volley at HIV/AIDS,
challenging the world to spring into action.

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Sunday Scribblings posted the prompt, “raw.”  Doesn’t get much rawer than this.  Never forget.  Amy

Raw Nerve

When paneled vans began patrolling towns
in 1930s Germany, offering rides to vagrants,
making house calls on parent
of oddly-formed children,
no one seemed to notice.
No one cared.

When, street by street, whole families of Jews
“moved on” in the middle of the night,
it just have been to another town,
thought the good townspeople.
And though they would miss
Mrs. Weiss’s braided breads,
no one cared.

When each morning smokestacks rained
strange white ash on village streets,
people whispered, but no one spoke aloud.
No one cared.

When swastikas and crosses blurred in symbolism,
the good Christians didn’t think twice.
No one cared.

The secret to brutal injustice,
to tyranny and genocide,
hinges on this:
The majority’s apathy.

No one cared,
much less dared to ask
what the hell was going on.

© 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


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

Jingle asked us to write about pastimes this week for Poetry Potluck. I love going through this box of treasures, so much that I put it in the chapbook (shameless plug, see right column!).

Hope it gives you a smile! Amy


My mother’s “precious box” held sentimental doodads
The box was left to me when she died
Inside were Grandma’s fake diamond screw-back earrings
(“Real ladies” didn’t pierce their ears in those days)

Grandpa’s ring, raw turquoise set in carved silver
Girl Scout leader pins, Dad’s cuff links
A clip-on bow tie from Mom’s singing days
And a skeleton key, antique silver, dim patina

For years I’ve pondered what lock would respond; where the “open sesame” lay
A room in a past apartment? The front door to a secret house?
A desk filled with dusty volumes of Kipling and Whitman
Perhaps a cache of cash?

Somewhere there is a house, a door, a drawer
Whose treasures will remain hidden
Because I hold in my palm
The answer to a question

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

There’s going to come a day in the near future when anti-war protests will start up again.  Even if I have to start them.  In the meantime, just as a reminder of how “free” we were during the Bush years, a snapshot of a Buffalo city protest, “back in the day.”

ORANGE MESH (the Bushista years)

We are herded behind
the orange mesh fence
hastily erected by minions to protect
Dick Cheney from our opinions
Residents vs. the vice president

Local police, paid overtime (by our side) to ensure
there will be no crime, no ordinance breached
such as burning and looting and freedom of speech

We are cattle herded into our enclosure, our stall
Orange mesh strangling the voice of the people
encasing us, muffling our rage, this cage

“Why not trample it, stampede the Code Orange?” says I
“Because.” My friend points to
snipers on the roof of an old Buffalo landmark
Our turf is their turret

We have changed species
We are sheep bleating
shorn by orange nylon and rubber pylons

© 2008 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil