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

Category Archives: We Write Poems

Answered the call at We Write Poems (although we won’t post there until Wednesday) to write a poem that begins, “I’m willing to eat ____.”  Tried to avoid the most obvious noun (ha ha), because, although I have consumed a fair amount of shit in my life, rarely was it willingly!

Also posted at my NaPoWriMo home, We Write Poems, and at Poets United. Peace, Amy

Willing to Eat Worms

I’m willing to eat worms
or walk through fire for you
Shield you from harm
Comfort you when thunder
steamrolls over your sleep

Hold you when you weep after
someone calls you a name
Why? Because I’m your mother.
I’m willing to swallow all pride
…except my pride in you, kiddo

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

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

For April Poem A Day, I have decided to post to Writer’s Island and to go off prompts for the month, for the most part, and delve into poetry I’ve written over the past couple of years that has yet to see the light of day.

The Man Who Became An Island

Withholding his thoughts;
withdrawing day by day, floating away toward the sea

She stood by, calling him back away from shore,
back to this world,
the real world.

But he was “expanding from within,”
convinced that no one else could comprehend
his power, his vision, his wisdom.

“You are all ants,” he proclaimed,
“scurrying around a hill, dragging crumbs,
while I am destined for a higher purpose.”

He pulled in every corner of his being and
drew it around him into a cocoon of bizarre grandeur.

An island.

And later, as psychosis grabbed him by the throat,
a whole ‘nother planet.

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

This takes some explanation.  To begin with, my generation has a problem with the word “queer.” It ranks up there with the “n” word and the 6-letter “f” word in our sense of disparagement of people who have to work much harder in this world, controlled as it is by white, straight men.

Joseph Harker, one of my favorite poets (see his blog on “Poets I Love”), posted to a prompt to “answer” a poet of yore. He chose Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We So Cool” with an interpretation that included the word “queer.” My daughter, Riley/Laura, taught me that I am the first to chide people for “not changing,” and that since she identifies as “gender queer,” I will have to adapt. So my understanding of the queer world (and well as the “Q” word) has indeed expanded. Parents, it’s not always YOU teaching your kids – it goes both ways!

Then someone posted a homophobic rant about “Village People” and damnation, so I replied in a poem, riffing off Joseph. Long explanation – loaded with controversy – I welcome any and all comments on this one.

You Are Queer (with love to Gwendolyn Brooks and Joseph Harker)

You are queer. You
are dear. You

live free. You
please me. You

speak out. You
whisper, shout. You

are loud. You
are proud. You

were dates. You
find mates. You

live longer. You
grow stronger. You

catch hate. You
know fate. You

are shoved. You
are loved.

(c) 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

THREE!  This poem answers three prompts:  We Write Poems (Against the Grain), Writer’s Island (Tribute), and Sunday Scribblings (Big).

Larger than life, yet in her own mind, just doing her part. One of my all-times heroes, and right now, we need all the heroes we can get. Amy

Big Little Woman

To a woman who lost it all
Widowed, her children dead from dread disease, the flu pandemic.
After her kids perished, she nursed neighbors.

To a woman who rose from grief and chose
to take up the burden of others:
Mothers, fathers, children, all laboring side by side
in factories, in fields, on farms, long hours for pennies,
as their cruel, crafty masters garnered a tidy profit.

Fat cats whose fortunes were secure.
Rich men whose better angels whispered, “Show love, compassion.”
But Greed and Hubris shout down angels.
They blot out God in a frenzied cloud
of green ink and gold coins numbering 30 and more.

Still, this widow woman knew nothing and cared less
about her own comfort. Others’ welfare trumped wealth
in her sensibilities, as she saw the rich exploit the masses.

She trod into the mines and the mills.
She talked in the fields, where the hopeless
worked long hours under punishing conditions.

She spoke of dignity (if she’d stopped there,
she would never have seen a jail cell).
She spoke of fairness (watch it, lady).
She shouted about rights (ah, the gloves were off now).

She stirred the pot, this big little woman,
pistol under her petticoat, taking on police
sent by their rich masters.

She was the voice of unions, the midwife of labor.
Let’s raise a toast in tribute to this hero,
who warned us that labor leaders should never
wear fancy suits or become rich off their organizations
(a fact that speaks volumes today)
and who taught us that, no matter what
the rank and file must be protected:

Raise your glasses high to Mother Jones.

At We Write Poems, we were asked to write about a guardian angel. I have always known mine, but in this particular circumstance, I do believe she nearly saved my life. Filed under “Amy: The Lost Years.”

Who Did I Hear?

We’re hangin’ out back
in a converted garage
that is tacky but serves
as a home, for now.

Rafters overhead hold
mic stands that belong to
The New Riders of the Purple Sage
(I can’t make this stuff up).

I’m comfy on a couch but
suddenly extremely thirsty.
Someone offers me a beer
from the lukewarm coffin,

but I need something cold.
RIGHT AWAY. Can’t say
what’s in my brain, but I
jump up and go out the door.

Two seconds later, CRASH!
And looking at the couch
where I was sitting moments before,
a mic stand had fallen, base first.

If you ever lifted one of those suckers,
you know they’re damned heavy,
plus it shattered a framed picture
on its way to my former nest.

Something, someone told me,
Must have been my grandma Blanche,
who knew all about brain trauma…

…and the need for a really cold beer.

(c) 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

While I am editing several poems on the public protest over workers’ rights here in Madison, I need to take a break and answer a call to a prompt. Too much politics leads to personal unrest, and self-care is a huge part of successfully managing my manic depression… so meditation and writing are a big help!

At We Write Poems, we were asked to write about “safe places.” I was a rover in my twenties, and these are but a few of the places were I laid my head to rest…

Safe Havens

An unheated, leaky garage at an old rocker’s compound

A couch in a flophouse

The egg-crate pads laid on the floor of a nudist commune

Haystacks in a barn, as we helped with the harvest

Marcia and Jesse’s closet, the door unhinged (as was I),
the most comfortable vortex of all…

The beach in Venice, where I lay under an umbrella of starts
watching the slivered silver moon dance through my tripping eyes

An SRO, hot plate heating Chunky Beef Soup

Looking back at these havens, all were safe
Some were filled with love.
others with the scent of cow patties
and the sweat of an honest day’s work.

And still others bore the sweetness of smoke
from Mendocino County’s finest…

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

At We Write Poems, we were asked to write about a safe place, a refuge.  Sometimes the best refuge is actually more like a foxhole or a bomb shelter… not necessarily bringing comfort, but warding off the enemy who is ever seeking out the vulnerable.


When you go to bed,
always keep the covers tucked in
and lie face down between two pillows
with the sheets pulled up over your head,
hands clutching the top seam in a death grip.

He’ll never find you there.

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

I couldn’t resist this prompt from We Write Poems. Then I’m definitely stopping until February! The prompt was to revise an old poem, and this one was reworked for my chapbook, Dance Groove Funhouse (shameless plug: See right column to order a copy. I could use the encouragement! There’s nothing in there your grandma couldn’t read.)

I had to rework it because it had the “F” word in it (as well as “shit”) and I decided the first was too harsh and the second could be replaced with the infinitely funnier word, “crap” – even though I’m a salty dame, I was considering my readers and felt that this slight bowdlerism was apropos. Also, I kept the line about the airgun even though I’m a pacifist, because this is about feelings, not what you’d really do. Finally, I broke up the days more clearly.

What came out was, to me and to many readers, a better poem altogether. Let me know what you think! Amy



Lazing after lush, lazy sleep I am
awakened by a lark
perched beneath my bedroom window
serenading me of the day to come
Thank you, God, for this blessing
the wakeup call from heaven
Birdsong on a Saturday morning


Working 9-5
Long into the night, I tossed and turned 3 a.m.
The alarm will grant me 6:45
Then it starts
That stinking bird
Sackful of crap that will undoubtedly be dispensed
on my windshield
If only I had
an airgun

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
Previously published in the chapbook, Dance Groove Funhouse

At Writer’s Island, we were asked to write about masquerades. My main masquerade is in life… or it was, until I sorted out some details.


Confident of every move
My stylus firmly in the groove
A smile that says I’ll take the dare
This is the mask I sometimes wear

My wit, a whetstone-sharped knife
I’m lit by fire, devouring life
Yet no one can detect the tear
that rends the mask I sometimes wear

Late to parties, the first to leave
I’m shiny slick with joie de vive
But if you look with special care
You’ll see right through the mask I wear

That’s my candle, both ends burning
Dripping molten, careless yearning
My frozen face, makeup and hair
Mask the wear and tear of le guerre

But once I’m home and all alone
There’s no façade, no great unknown
My crippling doubt I never share
In public, I’ve a mask to wear

They’ll never see the stripped-down me
used by him when I was three
That little girl can only bear
to live behind the mask I wear

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore, Sharp Little Pencil