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

Tag Archives: Gay Men

As I’ve been absent once again, I did want to mention a wonderful honor:  I have been published!   Barking Sycamores (a journal dedicated to autism in its many forms), published my poem in the very first edition. Link to my poem HERE.  Thanks to Nicole Nicholson for her outreach and sensitivity.

Now, on to poetry:  This Memorial Day, I have chosen a different group of veterans, ignored and consigned to ultimate death when the illness became the subject of gossip and hateful condemnation.

Other Veterans (GMHC, 1983)

Gay community’s response to the crisis
They didn’t know what to do with
the first straight girl who strode into
the waiting room, awaiting instructions

Witnessing wills, filing, odd jobs
Then a delivery, with deliberate orders:
“To Paul Popham. Into his hands only.
Upstairs office at NYC Central PO.”

Paul Popham,* one of six founders of
Gay Men’s Health Crisis, prominent attorney
At the PO, the BS began ASAP
Never forgot their condescension

“His office,” sneered receptionist,
“round back, by the bulk mail”
This prominent attorney with
inconvenient, indelible winestains,**

consigned to makeshift quarters
Breathing delivery trucks’ diesel
contributing to possible PCP***
Far from the “healthy” ones

Greeted me, standing tall
His small frame with grey suit
and suspenders to hold up his
shrinking self, like Daddy’s clothes

Such dignity, as though still possessing
the upper office he once commanded
Our eyes met, our hands grasped
the confidential package together

He shook my hand; he opened his arms
“No shame in crying,” as I bled tears
Total resolve in facing death
even as Reagan ignored the epidemic****

I hope the president’s inaction?
haunted him the rest of his days
and beyond. In the meantime,
Paul Popham carried on his work…

And we still pray

© 2014 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

*Paul Popham (1947-1985), whose Wikipedia bio can be found HERE, was one of the first AIDS activists in 1981, when the disease was known as GRID: Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Disease. Paul is portrayed as “Bruce Niles” in Larry Kramer’s Pulitzer-Prizewinning play, “The Normal Heart.” The long-awaited film version will air soon on HBO. SEE IT.

** Winestainss, dark purple lesions, were visible signs of Karposi’s Sarcoma, one of the many autoimmune diseases brought on by HIV/AIDS. If you’ve seen Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington in the groundbreaking film, “Philadelphia,” you will see how Hanks’ character disguised his winestains with makeup for as long as possible.

*** PCP, or pneumocystis pneumonia, was a lung-wrenching, usually quickly fatal infection of the lungs in those days. A depiction of testing for PCP can be seen in the William Hurt film, “The Doctor.”

****President Ronald Reagan was in a position to order funds for research; instead, he did nothing. He would not even utter the word “AIDS.” I am not ashamed to say that I hope this decision haunted his until his death.

Manly Men

There, he looked again,
right at me.
At my crotch, for God’s sake.
He’s at the table across from the bar
near the bathrooms.

Maybe he thinks I’m
“that way.”
Maybe the little queer
thinks he’ll score.
Who can blame him? I’m a stud.
I work out twice a week.

But God, he must
think I’m some kind of

Here he comes,
right over to the bar,
brazen little nancy boy.
I could buy him a few
drinks, get him out back
and beat the shi-

“Mister?” the young man says
“Your fly is open.”
He walks to the door,
greets some guy
They hug and grab a drink.

Maybe I should work out more.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Kerry at Imaginary Garden With Real Toads requested we write poems from the first person point of view using a narrator whose unreliability becomes clear to the reader through the course of the narrative. Also, ABC Wednesday is up to M, and, as always, it’s up at my favorite LGBTQ-friendly cafe, Poets United.

Remember, never judge the book without reading it first. Or something like that. I’m so sick of homophobes, and this is an example of well-deserved ego deflation (and shrinkage!). Peace, Amy

A bit late for World AIDS Day, but this song was written for it.  Blessings to all who are still fighting the fight – doctors doing research, nurses offering loving care, and the people who struggle each day to take their 1,001 meds. Don’t let the media fool you – AIDS is not easy to manage. Peace, Amy

The Day I Saw An Angel Fly (For Jeffery French)
Words and Music by Amy Barlow Liberatore, copyright 2001

In the 80s, on a big iron bed
My friend Jeffery, and a sign that read:
The nurse came in and whispered to me
“Put on a mask and gloves – it’s for protection, you see”
And in defiance of the rules, I lay the gloves aside and wiped his fever cool
When it was time to leave, Jeffery tugged at my sleeve, and spoke of…

Angels, flying free
He said, Angels, they’re waiting for me
They’ll take away my fever and fear
They’ll give me wings and release me from here
We’ve all of us, angels-to-be… I hope you see them when they come for me
When I go and you’re missing me so, just turn your face to the sky
And say you saw an angel fly

So many years, so many goodbyes
Too many breaks in our family ties…
Sisters, brothers, friends and lovers
A little news of research each day, and in the meantime, we pray
We keep on working for the best
But when the battle’s lost, and someone’s laid to rest
Jeffery’s words come back to me… I close my eyes and I see…

Angels, all around; angels, on holy ground
They see my tears and soothe all my pain
They give me courage to face life again
We’re all of us, angels-to-be… I know I feel them when they comfort me
I’m not sure of too much in this world, but I know you’ll never really cry
Until you see an angel fly

Can’t remember where I learned to laugh, but
I know I learned to cry
The day I saw an angel fly

NOTE: Jeffery died a week after I told him I was pregnant with my daughter. His beloved Christopher made sure Jeff was able to stay at home and pass away in his own bed, in his favorite nightshirt. Christopher is still with us, and this song is dedicated to both of them. And no, I did not misspell my friend’s name! “G. Jeffery French.”

Also at my poetic heart and hearth: Poets United.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Men (for We Write Poems, with a nod to Wallace Stevens)

I.          They’re different in certain ways, but what’s in common reigns.
II.        Through the bottom of a shot glass, darkly.
III.      Millions are fathers deserving of respect, when respect is due.
IV.       Sometimes, they are bullies or abusive and deserving of no respect at all.
V.         As leaders of our nation; therefore, we should elect more women to level the playing field.
VI.      Warily.
VII.     As warmongers and war profiteers… and troops who actually have to fight the battles.
VIII.   While wearing rose-colored glasses (which you will eventually lose).
IX.        As friends who are with you no matter what the circumstance, especially if they are gay and you are one of those straight girls who just loves them to death (like me).
X.          As husbands or committed partners – in which case, keep your hands off them (straight OR gay!). Monogamy should be honored (and polygamy, well, eeeeeeeew).
XI.         As co-founders of our country, along with the mostly forgotten Founding Mothers.
XII.       As white/Anglo and born to privilege, never having to earn the money they now fight so hard to keep.
XIII.     As people of color who are often overlooked, profiled, or assumed to be criminals, in the US illegally… or born in Indonesia, so he can’t REALLY be president.

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Christopher Street
(for Jeffery, Jimmy, and thousands more)

Remember the good old days when
the word “immune” didn’t start with “auto”?
When a wine stain was something
he hand-washed off his shirt?

When, drenched with sweat,
two men would lie in bed all day,
not because they were sick…
they were just lolling in love.

Stonewall came and Gay Pride grew
‘til the storm clouds massed and
lightning struck down too many men
in the prime of their lives.

Christopher Street no longer radiates
the joy we knew back then, nor does
the Village hold the singular charm of
young gay lovers stealing a kiss.

Who would have thought a virus could
change our world in such a visceral way,
and never return us to yesterday?
Look back, remember, smile, cry, and trudge on.

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For Three Word Wednesday – Drench, Immune, Radiate.  Also on Poets United… Pray for a cure!  Amy