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

Category Archives: Social Justice

No, this isn’t about my first marriage – it’s much, much more personal.

Ron Johnson, the senator from my adopted home state of Wisconsin, seems poised to retain his seat. There is not enough space in the blogosphere to convey my distaste for him, for his politics, for his everything. “Personal” doesn’t begin to touch how many ways he offends me – LGBT issues, especially Trans protections; freedom of my and everyone else’s uterus to belong to the owner of said uterus; immigration; racial, social, and economic justice; Native American issues; and just being the white, straight, cisgender, cluelessly entitled rich man his is. (If you think of any more, kindly leave them in the comments.)

The worst thing to happen in WI – aside from Scott Walker (former governor) and Joe McCarthy (architect of HUAC and famous conspiracy theorist – back before the term had been coined). No one has given me more cause to shout at my TV since T*rump was in office.

Good news: the aforementioned former president (and fetid toad) seems to have lost momentum. A spark of hope in an otherwise rather dim sky. I know that retaining a 50/50 Senate should feel like a win, and I can work with the result. But Herschel Walker? Really? Like “my eyes cannot roll back far enough in my HEAD really?” Honestly.

As Luka is wont to say, “I can’t even.” Luka has more colorful words, but I will stick with the non-sweary terms. My kid has never missed a vote, and they are 34 now. I have always been ridiculously proud of them. But their understanding of the democratic process is truly on the Top Ten Reasons Luka Rocks.

There will be time enough to rant. Let’s end on the My Kid Rocks part. Amen.

Mom and Blanche

From Whence, and Why
(My Poetic Manifesto… because Gay asked for it!)

I write to give voice
to those without a choice
The homeless, incest survivors
Deep-water depression divers

I’ve been, at one time, all of these
I claim it, no third-person tease
Stated as fact, no truth untold
Some wish that I wouldn’t be quite so bold

Raised to speak raw truth to power
Toe to toe with guys who tower
far over my little Irish ass
(Pardon me, but I can be crass)

Give me paper, a sharp li’l pencil
and life’s underbelly I will stencil
Most people in sight of my spigots:
Racist, homophobic bigots

I’m not important, not myself
My poetry rarely graces a shelf
I drop truth bomb after drone
My words, the only weapon I own

© 2014 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For dverse Poets Pub, our host Gay Reiser Cannon asked for “Manifestos.” Reasons why we write, our impulses and drives, where it all first came from. I dedicate this piece to my late mother and my grandmother Blanche. The maternal side of my family, shanty Irish, were always mindful of those who had less, whether people of color, LGBT folks, victims of war (especially troops who died and their families)… perhaps because they themselves had been in a position of being homeless and next to starving during the Depression of the 30s.

They also thought Ayn Rand was full of shit. We ARE our brother’s – and sister’s – keepers, and if you deny that, you supply the world with ZILCH. Hence my manifesto. Peace, Amy


TIRADE (More Crap Made in China)

New egg timer, like my mom’s
Worked well two times; third time bombs
(more crap made in China)

Coffee pots are always new
‘cause last year’s just went ker-phloo
(more crap made in China)

Got our broken toilet fixed
One week later, handle sticks
(more crap made in China)

Used to be American-made
Goods that lasted, made the grade
(no more crap from China)

Give our people back their jobs
Screw the greedy corporate slobs
(no more crap from China)

© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

I mean, really. Is it too much to ask, things that work? Why haven’t we gone to Congress, to the White House lawn, and thrown ALL our crap over the fence in protest? Why aren’t we speaking out about OUR OLD JOBS vs. retraining for “new industry”? This is not the fault of the Chinese PEOPLE – it’s the American multinationals, providing “deep discounts” that people snap up without giving a thought to the enslaved children and underpaid workers who toil for pennies, while the manufacturer makes millions. Think of Bangladesh, too.

We have enough kids graduating to fill the “new industry” jobs… let’s put folks back to work, doing what they already know how to do.

This is my own form, the barlette, which has two or three lines followed by (a comment in parentheses). For ABC Wednesday, which is on the letter “T” for trash… trade… trust???!! Also at my poetic pond, Imaginary Garden With Real Toads, and my hangout for all things pencil: Poets United. Peace, Amy

My Favorite Poem of All Time (Click above to hear it read by Amy)
Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For Imaginary Garden With Real Toads

By Carl Sandburg (1878–1967)
from his Chicago Poems, 1916

AMONG the mountains I wandered and saw blue haze and red crag and was amazed;
On the beach where the long push under the endless tide maneuvers, I stood silent;
Under the stars on the prairie watching the Dipper slant over the horizon’s grass, I was full of thoughts.
Great men, pageants of war and labor, soldiers and workers, mothers lifting their children—these all I touched, and felt the solemn thrill of them.
And then one day I got a true look at the Poor, millions of the Poor, patient and toiling; more patient than crags, tides, and stars; innumerable, patient as the darkness of night—and all broken, humble ruins of nations.

TO ALL: Whatever your faith, I invite you to read this. You may follow a
different path, but it’s really all about living in love.

In Step With Jesus
(For Bob Gwynne and Monica Wahlberg, with love and thanks)

To be in step with Jesus…
Stop. Wait. Listen.

Allow Jesus to choose your stride.
It may be slower; it may take you
down by the riverside or
wash you in rainfall.

You may see yourself
offering a hand to one whom
you wouldn’t have touched
the week before.

To be in step with Jesus…
Stop. Wait. Listen.
Allow the Spirit inside.
Let your soul be enveloped
by the Divine Sofia, Wisdom.

You may see yourself
in sandals, sharing love,
feeding those in need, even
acting up in the
“Temples of Power.”

You will change.

© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Yes, it’s my 666th post. No, this is not the first horse of the Apocalypse, nor do I believe in “the mark of the Beast,” and I’m not going there with any jokes, either (although 6/66 is when my friend Monica was born, so there you go, one happy coincidence, an early birthday present).

This poem was inspired and written entirely at Sunday morning’s praise and worship service, during which guest “sermonator” Rev. Bob Gwynne (an activist of many years; he and his jubilant wife, Jesse, are respected senior members of our church), gave an excellent sermon about being in step with Christ.

For Imaginary Garden With Real Toads’ Open Link Monday, and the Poetry Pantry at Poets United.  Also, BIG ANNOUNCEMENT TOMORROW, SO STAY TUNED!  (ribit croak gruggle)  Peace to all, Amy

PLEASE NOTE: If you are strictly anti-abortion, you probably won’t want to read this. Better yet, perhaps you should, because it deals with a particular “method of conception,” as one lawmaker so callously put it recently.  So that makes me… a walking uterus?  And since I’m post-menopausal, that would make me useless… It’s like how they called cigarettes a “nicotine delivery system.”  And don’t get me started on “legitimate rape.”  It’s violence and power, not sex.  Hey, women can see past this malarkey.  Remember in November, sisters!

Scroll down a bit for the poem.





Since the Procedure

First appointment since
her miserable abortion.
She’s 18 – nervous, tearful.

The nurse who knows her and
helped with the procedure
is by her side. Part rock, part teddy bear.

Then Doctor steps in.
Without a word, detached,
he flips up the stirrups
like it’s a mechanical bull and
not an exam table. “Slide up,”
are his first words to her.

He invades her with icy hands.
Palpates roughly.
Orders her to relax.

This from the man who
vacuumed her womb
only last week. He performed
the abortion, but you can feel
his disgust toward his patient.

“I said RELAX.” She tenses at the command.
Then, he mumbles, “I can’t do this
if you don’t cooperate.”

Briskly sheds his latex gloves;
brusquely exits the room.

Nurse holds the girl as she shakes and sobs,
“Take the money and run, doc.”

Later, Doctor gripes, “These girls
get in this type of trouble
and I have to take care of it but
they don’t help, not a bit.”

Nurse blurts, “Yeah, don’t you hate it when
girls go out and get themselves raped?
Honest to God, you have no idea, do you?”
Her indignant outburst is lost on him as he
flips through a Bermuda Vacation catalog.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Three Word Wednesday (yes, it’s Sunday, I’m well aware!) asked for a poem including the words Miserable, Brisk, and Detached. I knew a doctor like this… one of my friends was raped and he had ZERO pity, zero compassion. There are plenty of wonderful doctors, but this guy wasn’t one of them. That nurse (Catholic by faith, dedication to social justice gospel) quit the practice and opened a counseling center for girls and women recovering from abortion. “It has to be legal, clean, and safe,” she said, “but it doesn’t have to be even more traumatic than what some of them went through to need the procedure in the first place.”

I will also challenge readers at dverse Open Mic… perhaps I’ll get some flack.  In fact, I hope I do, if only to open the door for mutually understanding and conversation.   May every child be a wanted child, Amy

No matter what I post, I always make a point of mentioning my poetic hearth, or home, or launching pad, or cafe… I am proud to be a member of Poets United, and all my poems are backtracked there to a constantly updating feed. Today, they had a specific prompt, and so I was thrilled to write something just for them.


Blacks abused, a story
that seems to have no end.
Obscure beginning for HeLa.
One woman’s cancer cells were
scraped away as she lay dying, more
from the treatment than the cancer itself.
Johns Hopkins implanted radioactive rods in
her womb until all inside her turned bomb-black.
The cells taken from her uterus, much like a skin shed
in death, were put on the market and migrated from lab
to lab until they were all over the world. But no one told
her family, nor did they give them any of the money… quite
a considerable amount, not to mention the intellectual property.

Henrietta Laks was used, over and over, by whites, for profit.
First, in life, by cruel poverty, segregation, inability to
care for her own, to see to her kids’ well-being, to their
education; one daughter was institutionalized, as she had
married her first cousin, like folks did back in those
days. Her cervical cancer was detected far too late;
she died so young. Then, after her death, her
“immortal cells,” truly a medical miracle,
proliferated without anyone’s say-so,
and only by chance did her daughter
find out Mom had been to outer
space, survived bomb blasts,
outlasted most of her kin,
but only bits of Mom.
Black folks always
feared Johns

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
Poets United’s Think Tank Thursday asked us to write a poem based on a book. Henrietta Lacks is the subject of a book I recently read, called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. On the cover is a picture of a vibrant, fun-loving girl, dressed up to go out on the town. A few short years later, she was dead of cervical cancer… but scientists “harvested” her cells, which seemed to have immortality; whatever they did to them, “HeLa cells” (they used the first two letters of first and last names of all patients from whom they harvested cells, and all without family permission or compensation) survived and proved to be hearty. Of course, members of the scientific “brain trust” also perpetrated other atrocities on Black Americans, including the infamous Tuskeegee sterilization of thousands of fertile men and women, in hopes of narrowing the race to “controllable” numbers.

Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah, eventually teamed with the book’s author, Rebecca Skloot, a white writer who gained Deborah’s trust. Together they embarked on a journey back in time, tracing the history of both the woman Henrietta and the HeLa strain of cervical cells. Read it – horrifying and fascinating history. For more on Henrietta, and to view the picture mentioned in the poem, click HERE. Peace, Amy


Well, I have to thank everyone who has expressed concern about my health (both physical and emotional) recently. You have buoyed my spirits greatly. I may never be free of mental disorders, but… “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Truly blessed to know such talented, giving spirits. Thank you all. And now, two poems for two different sites. Love and peace, Amy


We can differ without having to defer.
We can hold out and still not halt.
We can accept and still imagine.
We are human. We can adjust.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For Three Word Wednesday (Differ, Halt, Imagine), and at Poets United.


Leaders… and bleeders

For all the teachings
of Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed;
For all the wisdom
of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Rachel Carson;

One would expect a more peaceful world.

For all the writings
of Rumi, Buddha, Howard Zinn;
For all the actions
of Mother Teresa, Mother Jones, and Susan B. Anthony;

One would expect a world filled with justice.

Yet for every peaceful action,
there is a virulent, violent reaction.
For every step forward,
there is the rumble of a clattering machine,
rolling over the footprints of those
who act on behalf of good in this world.

For every machine,
there is a master.
For every master,
there is a burning need to bleed the life from others.
And for that burning need, that hubris,
the rest of us are sacrificed
on the altar of Capitalism and The Global Market.

One would expect better from humankind.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For Imaginary Garden With Real Toads; also at Poets United.

Quick note:  I’ve been quite vocal (well, I AM an activist, right?) about the “auto-check” option that WordPress foisted on us without notice, flooding our (and our followers’) email boxes because “Keep me posted on follow-up comments via email” was now automatically checked. Complaints flew this way and that; I posted a series, including a “fix” for the “glitch.”

Apparently, many WordPress followers made their voices heard, and together (go, WPbloggers) we AFFECTED CHANGE. This was a wonderful, peaceful activist movement.  Y’ALL DID IT AND Y’ALL ROCK!  Next time you feel a call to action, take it.  You’ll be amazed at what happens.  As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  Amen, ma’am.


Song of Psychiatry

Paperwork presentation
plus insurance information
Explanation of condition
(that part really saps ambition)

Process of elimination,
might need “bin” incarceration
Finally, the prescription(s)
matching your description(s)

(If you didn’t tell it well,
your mental health goes straight to hell
Then you end up in “The Bin,”
feeling like you’re lost again)

Follow-up examination
Tweaking meds, anticipation
that he’s found the incantations
to relieve these odd sensations

(Ennui and extreme malaise,
lasts for weeks or only days;
MANIC, I could climb a tower
but that wears off in an hour)

Diagnostic confirmation:
Bi-Po PTSD-ation,
winter bluesy affectation…
Happy Light, a true salvation

(All these meds for downs and panics!
I may Kafka into Xanax…
Lex will look for me until
he finds me, morphed into a pill)

Don’t skip therapy’s vital function
Psych meds only, mental unction
Counseling’s for exploration,
finding roots of situation)

Now shrink gives me medication
Spirit gives me meditation
Thus my balance has been struck
(Thanks to doctors, God, and luck)

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For ABC Wednesday, brought to you by the letter “S.” Also at dverse Open Mic and my poetic haven, Poets United.

NOTES: I have a generally productive, sometimes difficult life, a fantastic husband and daughter who understand all the facets of my chemical imbalance, great friends and a supportive faith community, and I’m not on public assistance – because I have solid mental health coverage. WE NEED UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE. It would half-empty our prisons and save many homeless people from the isolation of despair. I’m an advocate for Health Care For All. How about you?

Memories of Neisse (for Hanna)

Traditional Seder plate

Looking back, it began slowly.

Happy memories of sacred Friday rituals
Mama lighting the Shabbat candle
Everyone singing songs in Hebrew

Relatives visiting on significant holidays
Passover in Neisse, their little town
Up and down streets, the strings of

small shops owned by proud families
Wandering Jews who’d settled so long
they felt like indigenous Germans

Then, change in the air, a foul stench
as demons plotted in biergartens
with one who had a Master Plan

First is was spittle on Father’s shoes
as they walked to temple
Elaboration: Book burning

Brecht, Freud, Dos Passos, Proust
Einstein, Kafka, Joyce, Helen Keller
Genius flashes turned to ashes

Artwork was destroyed, replaced by
white marble gods and goddesses:
The. Ideal. German. Is. Not. A. Jew.

Young Hanna was told to leave school
and never come back. She glanced
over her shoulder fighting back

bitter, Jewish, no-longer-real-German tears
as a swastika flag was affixed above
the entrance to her (no-longer-her) school

Their summit was yet to be reached
The nadir of Hanna’s life as they
boarded the train for…

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For The Sunday Whirl: Goddess, String, Elaborated, Flags, Sacred, Visit, Demons, Summit, Rituals, Significant, Intentions, Indigenous. Also for dverse Open Link Night.

Dedicated to Riley’s Oma (“grandma” in German), Hanna Weinberger, who escaped Auschwitz two weeks before the Liberation, emigrated to America, married, and had two sons.   Also dedicated to the man she married, Leonard Weinberger, and their sons, Rob and Roy.