Ghost of Mama, Passed
Damnedest thing, this smell
Can’t get it out of hair
nor clothes nor bedding
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!)
When you’re done, you MUST check out the wacky prompt that Walt gave us at Poetic Bloomings. It made for one heckuva fun Sunday!
Mom, stuck on a cul de sac
with no car. Had she the fare,
she would have fared well
in Paris – a random thought,
reflecting her need for
“I’ll take up painting!” she
blurted; Leslie and I nodded.
She burst forth with wacky plans
when moody. Lacking supplies
(Les and I were thinking easel,
paints, canvas, a jaunty beret)
she called two friends before
securing a ride to… an art store?
Chances of her following through
were about even with the chance
of an armadillo successfully crossing
a West Texas highway.
Next day after school…
the danger signs: In the open garage,
large paint cans, brushes dripped
blood onto newspaper, and three
Gordon’s gin empties.
Whatever it was, she was done with it.
High as a kite and just as flighty,
she flittered around her creation.
Charlotte had painted the kitchen walls
and the ceiling Vincent Price Black.
Her Waterloo with an indignant
bridge club; members refused to
enter our home on Brookside Avenue…
a cry for help that passed
© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
Walt at Poetic Bloomings had some fun at our expense:
Today, you are given random nudges, the replies to which will become the pieces to your poetic puzzle.
1. Your mother’s first name (Charlotte)
2. A wild animal (armadillo)
3. A city you’ve never visited, but would like to (Paris)
4. A hobby (painting)
5. A mode of transportation (car)
6. Your least favorite vegetable (tomato – don’t even get me started)
7. A “lucky” number (2)
8. Your favorite color (red)
9. Three random words (dramatic, moody, random)
10. Historical event (Waterloo – doubles as an ABBA song)
11. A childhood friend (Leslie Frederick, still a friend even though she moved away in FIFTH GRADE!)
12. The street on which you grew up (Brookside Avenue)
You can write in any form, meter and rhyme scheme. Your title will be the answer to #1 + the second random word in #9.
This also appears at Poets United’s Poetry Pantry and on the sidelines at my “pad,” Imaginary Garden With Real Toads.
NOTE: The story is essentially true, but I altered the timeline to accommodate the poem. This didn’t happen on my watch, but many years before – when Mom’s moods started pingponging like those of her mom, my Grandma Blanche. Charlotte was never diagnosed, but she did pull off stunts like this while on a self-medicated high. The red kitchen with black ceiling? YES, IT WAS TRUE! She later told me, “I don’t know what I was thinking, because that kitchen made me feel claustrophobic. Bud finally repainted it after three days because he couldn’t stand the colors, and he was really scared by then of my moods.”
Charlotte. Mama. Never a dull moment! Peace, Amy
ALL AT ONCE
She drank to forget
But when she drank
as though reading from
a volume of Dickens,
reciting a poem
by Gwendolyn Brooks,
exhaling a road song
by Woodie Guthrie
Slowly, no rampage,
these ramblings; recalled
in a trance of romance and
morbid, mothballed memory
all at once
Cloistered as she and I were
in our clapboard ranch house
To me, she was home
To her, this house,
this home meant a range,
a fridge, a freezer,
a coffee pot, a yard
a car, and especially
a bathroom that locked
all at once
“Back then,” as it always
started, these old stories,
“back then” was a
carried by a little girl
whose mother would
in the middle of the night
and come back weeks later
haggard but much calmer
after being committed
all at once
She told me of
late-night runs from
the landlord and the
perils of being the
only girl with an
absent mother and
a drunken father
and a brother who was
sent off to Auntie Ruth’s
All this turmoil
milling through her mind
In a gaze hazy with
all at once
She confessed it all
I was her eight-year-old
confidante, her committed,
codependent kid and I
maintained that role
until she died. It’s hard
being all things
to one person
all at once
© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
Photo of Charlotte at age 9 (with “Little Iodine” bow, all the rage back then), all rights reserved by Amy Barlow Liberatore © 2013
When I read Three Word Wednesday’s prompt words (Rampage, Morbid, Cumbersome), they took me back to The Kitchen Table Days, afternoons with my mom. She had gin and I had chocolate milk… later, coffee. I’d listen for hours; sometimes, she’d fall asleep in her folded arms and I’d wake her and lead her to bed. The three writers cited (Dickens, Brooks, and Guthrie, “all at once”) were embedded in this one woman forever. The poverty and sharp observation of the British author; the African-American jazz flavor of the poet; and her Midwestern upbringing in Iowa, along with her support for social justice (just read the unpublished final verse of “This Land Is Your Land”) by the songwriter.
There is much alliteration in this piece, among other “tricks of the trade,” so dverse’s Poet’s Toolbox will also receive a link. Check these sites out, folks. There are literally HUNDREDS of great poets contributing to these blogs. Also check out Poets United, my poetic family.
My mother: Singer, writer, storyteller, alcoholic, mental health history unknown. But if YOUR mom was institutionalized repeatedly and came back looking like Blanche did (haggard, calm after massive electroshock) in those days, you’d have thought twice about seeing anyone except your clergyman. I do not blame her, nor do I attempt to demonize her. Charlotte was a helluva lot of fun, and she and Blanche are a huge part of the reason I’m the sharp little pencil I am today. Peace, Amy
There was a prompt on dverse called “Missing You” that, of course, I missed linking to. To which I missed linking. Linking missed did I. Whatever! Fortunately, Imaginary Garden With Real Toads is hosting Open Link Monday, so thanks, Kerry!
During Advent, I remember large and small kindnesses, and I think about those I’ve lost over the years. “And of all these friends and lovers, there is no one compares to you.” With a nod to John Lennon, here a a poem about the person I miss so much.
NOTE: All poems regarding my relationship with my father are about me and me alone. I make no claims, nor do I speak for my sisters.
The coffee shared at the cigbutt-scarred
kitchen table (my workspace now).
The stories, especially when you were
drunk as a skunk, rambling on about
our noteworthy obscure Irish lineage.
Our family totem: Gordon’s and an ashtray.
Grandma Blanche exacting revenge
on Bill, who cheated with her best friend.
Wish you had taken a picture of his face
when he walked in, realizing he was busted.
The nights you went off to sing, scent of
Tigress cologne, the black sequins and
paste jewelry from Blanche, I called them
“dime mints,” the teardrop earrings you wore.
The teardrops signified more: Breakfast
wearing sunglasses, Dad hit you the night before
after doing me in a fit of jealousy – Dad sure
you were fooling around at your gig, you dig?
Next morning, to church, choir director… first,
vodka bracer, no lie detector, I’d never tell
Your secrets were safe with me and my
secrets I didn’t know until after you both died.
Mama, you told me we were both descended
from sirens. I didn’t think you meant
ambulances, yet backward glances tell me
(in the hindsight that trumps your own truth),
you were a mess, and so loveable, and so
weak, and so in need, and so on. I know.
I’m the dark mirth of the Irish, the mother of
a savant, the keeper of memories, of the love.
© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
My mother was an enigmatic, persuasive lioness who occasionally retreated to helpless-kitten states through alcohol. She drank because she didn’t want to be “crazy” like her mother, Blanche, who was bipolar like me, but because of the times, was institutionalized and Frankenshocked through the 30s and 40s. Charlotte drank because she didn’t want to “notice” Dad sneaking up the hall after his little girls had gone to bed. And she drank to warm up her razor-sharp memory for “the telling of the stories,” our family history. Some people tell the same stories over and over… which start out like funny mice but, over the years, morph into elephants. Not Mama. I was her witness, and I know she would be glad I write about all the mess, the booze, the music, the tears, and the bellyaching laughter… and yes, even the abuse.
Hug your parents tight, if they are with you. My depression comes and goes, but hers was long, tortured, and I thank God that now, she is at peace. Miss you, Mama. Love, Amer
Photo taken by my Grandpa Bill in August 1959, during a visit to Mom’s home town, Council Bluffs, Iowa. Copyright is with me.