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

Category Archives: Home

Broken Angel
(based on “Angel,” my poem for Poetic Bloomings)

Back then
Back when Christmas was fun
And it was Santa’s birthday again

We had a tree
Same one every year,
Balsam fir, short needles,
dressed in pure red
A huge Mrs. Claus,
a “mama tree”

Cherry lights strung to perfection
Middle sis righting every
incorrectly placed bulb ‘til it was

Then the satinsheen red ornaments
(a hand-me-down from Aunt Pris,
the holiday window dresser at Fowler’s)
So fragile, handled like dynamite
lest one explode, one wrong move
revealing shards of thin glossy insides

We had no angel atop our tree, though
we three made many in Sunday school
and in every single grade –
back when Christmas was not a whisper
and to hell with the handful of Jews in the hallways
(some wishing they had trees and stockings too)

But angels? Our folks’d have to pick
one of our three… they’d have no trinity
And white would spoil the symmetry

Our angel, last year’s broken one
when a single slip lopped the top off
Stuck on top of the tree, inverted
Blood rushing to its head
crowned by needly thorns

“Lllight it up, plllug it in, Bud!
Girllls, outen the llllights!” slurred Mom
And there it stood
flooding the living room with
every gimmering shade of red

From the street, our tree was
a blazing hearth streaming
light onto snow that glowed
vaguely pink in its wake

“Oh, look,” said a neighbor
as folks strolled admiring
one another’s holiday handiwork,
“The Red Light District,
the Barlows’ cat house is once again
open for business!”

* * * * * * * * * *

That bulb on top
the bloodied, upside-down talisAngel of
all the other 360-some days of the year

Behind perfect suburban clapboard exterior
the heartbeat of interior fear
of inferiority comples flexing
my first scrawny girlish muscles that were
destined to beat up only myself

We’ve grown
Our kids’ angels, our new objects d’nativite
With grown-up arms, we
beat back the Barlow Bordello curse
But Christmas is still sad for me

Those shimmering red bulbs
Cherry ambulance lights on rescue that never came
A cry for help but
Dad’s hand was clamped over my mouth

A broken angel.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

This experience is based solely on my own experience and should not reflect on my siblings in any way other than before the asterisks (but middle sis WAS very meticulous about lighting, and I know she’d admit that, ha ha).

I wrote “Angel,” the part up to the “snowflake” asterisks, for Poetic Bloomings (childhood memories), but Sunday Scribblings wanted a poem about a Talisman, and this version goes deeper into the meaning of that ‘little red angel’ on our tree. Also for dverse Poets Open Mic on Tuesday, and as always, stuck in the stocking at Poets United, my “every day is a holiday” safe space. Peace, Amy

For my third day of National Poetry Writing Month, I decided to follow a prompt, because it called out to me. Sunday Scribblings asked for poems about messengers. This is for my mother, who beat the devil and was sober the final 10 years of her life. She’s been gone 21 years now, but when I need her, just like Blanche (her mom), she is there for me. In her weakness and in her strength, so many lessons. Miss you, Mama.  Love, Amer

Message in a Bottle

For the first time in years
(and so welcome, this occasion)
seated across the kitchen table with Mom.

For the first time in years
(since I had headed west for a spell)
she was not drunk – not even tipsy.

There was a message in
the absence of a gin bottle on that table…
Gordon’s had been her steadfast companion

Now we sat and looked each other in the eye
“Amy,” she said kindly, “there’s a scratch in your voice.
You need to stop smoking pot.”

For the first time in years,
we spoke singer to singer, our voices had always been
our beauty, our careers, our all.

“I sobered up,” she said slowly, “cold turkey.”
It was true – too ashamed to go to a clinic,
knowing so many people in town.

Dad had gone to her door several times each day,
listening to the retching, passing in black coffee
and soda crackers for a solid two weeks.

But for me, quitting a joint a day was easy.
And so the message was clear: No more bottle for her,
no more buds in Buglers for me. Saved my life, she did.

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Take a trip to Three Word Wednesday, where this week’s challenge was to create a poem using the words Dare, Practical, and Essence. Click on the links of other poets and see the variety that emerges!

This is not a true story, by the way, except for the term “dust rhinos,” coined by my beloved Lex before we were married – at which point, I handed him a broom and said, “Go for it!” Amy


She considered herself a practical person.
A place for everything; order ruled her world.
The little cup holding writing utensils was called,
“The Pencil Department,” setting a clear directive:
No scissors were allowed in that receptacle.

The essence of her need for these boundaries
came from (where else?) her childhood.
Mom was a gypsy tethered to a suburban home,
escaping for occasional adventures and
dragging daughter along for the ride.

Mom was not the housekeeper type;
her idea of ironing was catching Dad’s shirts
just as they came out of the dryer,
then folding faux creases in the collar and sleeves.
She only cooked frozen or canned foods.

The house was a mess, save the daughter’s room,
which sported a bedspread ready for
a drill sergeant’s quarter-toss and
neatly folded clothes, specifically spaced hangers.
All while Mom watched the soaps and drank.

Once on her own, the girl dared to let it slip a bit.
Her apartment was allowed to drift into disorder
until the day a dust rhino danced by her feet.
‘Twas then that her former, finicky self kicked into gear…
but every potential partner was repelled by her Pledge.

(c) 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

At Jingle Poetry, we were asked to write about AMBITIONS. Having just moved to a new city and state (state of mind as well as geographical), I’m ALL ambition this week! Enjoy, Amy (PS What a month to move to Madison, WI! Super Bowl champs, but most importantly – no one was seriously injured. Amen.)

Making it Home

Boxes unpacked
Stuff sorta stored
Cat comfortably curled in
his new niche

Even the throw rugs and
coffee paraphernalia
have found their place

Pictures yet to hang,
but that takes
thoughtful placement
and permission from the wall
to be pierced by a nail

But until tonight,
as we snuggled in the delicious intimacy
of true lovers,
jigsaw pieces in a perfect fit,
this apartment was not Home.

(c) 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

One last poem before they shut off the Net access and I welcome the movers. This meditation is one three days without my Lex smiling at me across the dinner table; it’s also a remembrance of days before his loving help in the kitchen.


Dinner for one
Single chicken breast pounded, powdered with
a bit of flour, salt, pepper
No flourishes here; no guest to impress

Olive oil flashes as poultry meets
onion-green pepper-garlic melange,
the Holy Trinity of kitchen worship
A lonely head of broccoli pipes up, steaming

I sip Pinot Noir from a jelly jar
Finer glasses sit on the shelf
waiting for someone who will one day join me
chatting over chopping of veggies
as he compliments my talent
for producing perfect brown rice

The table is set now
One placemat, one napkin in its ring
One cat mrrrowing that it’s his suppertime, too

Swirling a second helped of wine, I wonder
when the Fates will serve me up
someone for whom presentation is everything
and dessert doesn’t come from the oven, but
the slow cooking of romance

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Since I wrote about Barbara Stanwyck recently, I thought I’d give you one on another of my favorite stars!  Peace, Amy


Katharine Hepburn
deemed a house rentable
if she could take
an ice-cold shower
and come out refreshed.

She took the shower
without first informing
the real estate agent
After all, it was her decision
and she felt entitled

She’d simply emerge from the bathroom
wet towel around her fiery red hair
and say
or nay

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

We are moving from the Buffalo area to Wisconsin, as Lex has been called to a new church.   Lake Edge UCC offers Lex new challenges, and the Madison area is alive with cultural possibilities. Only sad part, leaving St. Paul’s UCC, Lex’s first church, and Attica friends who have become family to us… Peace, Amy


All day I lay paralyzed
Panic-stricken by the massive undertaking
of a major move

The task is like a ton of marble
meant to be chiseled
reshaped into shippable form

The more I chip away
the farther the flotsam flies
Last chance to cherish tsotchke before unpacking again

Now the room is a frenzy of
forgotten details, floating memories
Taunting bytes of mislaid input

Cable movers – nail down days
Valium for the cat, pet-friendly motels
Electric stop here electric start there

Change car rental ALL insurance
Ensuring my mental collapse, or at least
a surging synapse

Graph paper at the ready, grid lines map
our new home – orderly oragami
I’m so anal it’s damned convenient for the movers

Around 4 pm I am clueless in clutter
cup of decaf by my side and
comforting cat on my lap

Then a skitch of that endless marble flicks my face
Embedding itself in my ear, burrowing
into my brain. The cycle begins again

And who the hell moves from snowy cold Buffalo
to blizzard-ridden frigid Wisconsin
And in mid-January, yet?

I’m blaming God, who is laughing Her butt off in Heaven
After all, She issued Lex’s call to ministry, and now She chortles,
“I’ll get you, my pretty… and your little cat, too!”

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

My old friend George is about to embark on a journey most of us would envy… the kind where, when we’re old and sitting in a nursing home with a bib catching our drool, we rasp, “I should’ve done that, taken that trip, dropped it all and gone off to discover why I’m here and what life could have been.”

He stopped off for a last visit with Lex and me before liftoff. I scribbled these lines in hopes that he has a safe voyage and finds what he’s looking for… or it finds him!  Godspeed, my courageous brother.


Can there be
a better place
than what’s around the bend?

Goodbye once again,
and cramming into
his car, fairly brimming with

all the necessities.
A few luxuries:
DVDs to play once there

Sojourning toward Someday,
Will it end,
this road, this exquisite journey?

Or will he
touch down lightly
where peace and love collide?

Where he feels
alive at last.
At present, tense – but future…

Don’t give up
on these dreams
of belonging in the world.

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

A universal truth, given poetic form by yours truly! Have fun, Amy


Soap scum, sloughed-off cells and scunge
Hair of questionable origin
The bathtub, basin of family grunge
Gloves and gas mask, I’m going in

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

IN PRAISE OF SLOW COOKING (for De and Justin Jackson)

Lex minces garlic
and chops onion on a small cutting board
We love the sound of the knife
thunking the wood.

I brown the chicken in olive oil,
nudging the cutlets, easing in
a bit of broth after the first turn,
poaching with herbs from my potted garden,
a splurch of wine, a pinch of pepper.

Now we divvy veggie duty:
He, the mushroom expert,
peels, washes, slices thin
with a knife we wish was
up to the quality of our endeavor.

I’m the Carrot Queen, the
Broccoli Barlow Baby.
Rice is already on,
scented with saffron.

Whatever the meal, we cook
together. Slowly.
We need only the kitchen,
time, talk, and the bumping of butts
as we faux-fight over space.

Cooking is only half the fun.
Then comes enjoying
a slow-cooked meal
with family and friends.

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil