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

Tag Archives: Sexual Abuse

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


A girl’s first kiss should be
like baby’s breath,
not taken in the dead of
night by theft.

Her youth was stolen by
an old man’s greed.
She grew up certain that
to live is to bleed.

An angry woman from a
heartsick girl:
Her song is echoed
all over the world.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil (who looked a lot like the little girl on the left in the picture)

For ABC Wednesday, brought to you by the letter “X.” In this case, the saddest kiss of all was my first.  Also at my poetic safe room, Poets United.

PLEASE NOTE: To women, men, boys, girls: If this poem rings true for you, seek help, get counseling. If reading this hurts you in a vague, awful way and makes you want to drink or do drugs or seek other solace that’s unhealthy, try therapy – it’s worth the price to get your life back. Peace, Amy

Fortress in Mind

Secrecy was her secret to survival.
She forgot what happened because
no one talked about it.
Not even her sisters.

She cultivated a rabbit-proof fence
of quietude and dreams,
tracing images in the gritty grain of
their plaster bedroom ceiling.

Why did she only find scared faces?

Grew up in denim armor,
ensuring no boy wanted to date
the girl in the high-top Keds with
“Don’t touch” scrawled in acne.

Landed in Manhattan and
took on a new façade: Approachable.
This, too, was a wall; after all, she’d
“lost it” so long ago, it mattered little

who used her
or when
or where
or how.

All this took place inside
an elaborate labyrinth of hedgerows,
within the castle she had
built in her mind.

The only person who swam in the moat
was her father, he having the privilege
of power, which he exercised unwisely,
unkindly. Unrepentant and unchallenged.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For Sunday Scribblings, the prompt was “fortress.” Also at my poetic fortress, Poets United.

Military Schooling

Son of aristocracy, 1922
Flinty Mayflower stock
Brittle china lay at table
Burnished tea set

He was cocooned and at age 12
sent away to military school
The train’s scenery, a blur
from his first-class berth

The boys, also Sons of Sons,
were bigger, rougher than he,
raised as he was with two austere sisters
and a chalky-pale nanny

His first evening, knees scraping
the bathroom floor, drenched in sweat,
tongue rancid with the barnacles
that clung to the older boys’ yachts

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For the Sunday Whirl: Blur, Cocoon, Tongue, Scrape, Burnished, Brittle, Austere, Flinty, Drenched, Rough, Barnacles, Chalk. These words formed themselves into the best account I can figure of the “schooling” of delicate boys in the old days of private, all-male schools. Always a “new fish,” just like prison.

Also at Poets United’s Poetry Pantry, which welcomes poems of all types.

If you are not prepared to read about sexual abuse of a child, please skip this poem. If you have nightmares of being “invaded,” this poem may help you to seek therapy. Your call. Scroll down for the poem.  Peace, Amy


My Turn Tonight

Door opens, cringe-creaking
Covers pulled over my head
Keep still, stay quiet
Someone else’s turn instead?

No, I’ve drawn the unlucky card
Trembling as he turns my face
to face the unfaceable and
endure this sick disgrace

Morning, choking back chalk
Sheets dampened by sweat and the sinner
I’m pretty quiet at breakfast
But he grins like a Derby winner

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For Three Word Wednesday: Dampen, Keep, Tremble
Also at my poetic haven, Poets United.

NOTES: Through therapy, I made the journey from remembering to understanding it wasn’t my fault to shrieking truth at the long-dead man in the empty chair to acceptance, and ultimately, forgiveness. Once I forgave, the whole thing became a bubble over in a corner of my mind, where I could examine it on my own terms. The journey took 15 years, and I write about these events to help others connect. May incest, child abuse, child pornography… all die away, and love prevail.

If you suspect a child you know and love is being sexually abused, whether by their father, uncle, brother, teacher… be it a boy or a girl, let that child know they can talk to you about anything at all. Tell them that no matter what, grown-ups should never make a kid keep secrets, especially secrets that scare them. You could save a young person from suicide. Trust me. I was almost there. Peace, Amy

Omaha, Nebraska

Seated in the squalor that was
Council Bluffs in those days,
the big city seemed far away.

Even if she got there, someday
how would she find a job
that could pay? Really pay?

She dug up some money,
got a gown downtown and
she could pass for 21 (at 16).

She knew she could sing, then…
She dipped into Mama’s purse
and cursed herself for doing it, but

Mama wouldn’t miss the compact
as she was currently in the mental ward.
“I’m gonna look older, live bolder.”

And Dad was using his daughter
in ways that would not win him
Father of the Year awards.

So she packed up her pack,
left before Dad got back,
and boarded the ferry one day.

Hotel Blackstone hired her
at first sight and first song,
and yes, they would pay, hooray!

In years to come, she would
travel around, by bus, by car,
by train (not by plane).

She owed her start in large part to
Omaha. And Council Bluffs?
Only if there was a funeral.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For ABC Wednesday, brought to you by the letter “O.” Also at my poetic hangout, Poets United.

Image courtesy of “Heaven’s Gates,” but DAMN!  This singer in the photo is an absolute ringer for my mom, Charlotte, in those days, when she sang as Patty Long and later as Jan Long (Binghamton already had one Patty Long!).

TO ALL READERS: Not for the squeamish.  I have used another John Rainsford photo (credits below) because one was not enough.  Thanks, dverse, for turning us on to an amazingly talented photographer, web designer, and all-around artist.


He enters my bedroom;
I raise my eyes slowly
The unspoken message
unsettling, unholy.

Dad went and filled
his Viagra again.
What am I in for?
And how bad? And when?

No use attempting
to pull up the cover.
I wonder if Sue’d mind
another sleepover?

Cause I’m in the crosshairs
and he’s got the gun.
The battle is lost –
I am Dad’s “little one.”

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
Photo © John Rainsford, courtesy of dverse poetry.
For dverse Open Mic Night.

Friends, please don’t abandon me as I take a few weeks off to sort out our move to another home in Madison.  This one will have a proper workroom, space for breathing, and sunshine pouring through our windows.  I shall post “two for the road”; one sad, one about the work of the poet… for dverse, Sunday Scribblings, Poetic Bloomings, and Poets United.

If you comment on these, please be patient for a response, as I probably won’t be back until late January. And, as always, if you leave a comment, I will visit your blog in return! Blessings and peace for the New Year, Amy

At a Loss

At a loss, plum outta new thoughts
except those that drift:
first letters, then stop-start words
weave down the path to form
phrases (stitches awkwardly
frayed, signs of wear)

When I’m at a standstill…

I think on my friends
the quirks and catch-phrases
the confidences that
make the circle ever stronger

How we shoveled the shit back in the day
I smile, pick up my pencil
and suddenly, the absentee-brainer
becomes a no-sweater

Beginning to end
the heartbeat of the blend

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

A Brave One, 1985 (a barlette)

She’s a brave one
Bopping down the street
(after spending all night in the ER)

Smiles for strangers
and a hello for every telephone pole
(hitching down her skirt to cover bruises)

Nowhere special to go
Sunny, warm, a day to be spent in the park
(but not THAT park, never again)

Destination, the pier, downtown
near the Fulton Fish Market
(covers the smell of him that wouldn’t shower away)

Good thing she wore flip-flops
Sneakers would be too tight now
(his boots crushed her toes to bloody)

The doctor said come back
for a post-traumatic thing, at the hospital
(where strangers looked at her like she was garbage)

No, much better to take a dip
Water will heal her wounds
(Suddenly glad she never learned to swim)

Just a few minutes floating
in the gleaming sludge of the East River
(and his brutality will be gone forever)

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
(Process notes: The barlette is my own form – two short lines with (a commentary revealing truth).

WARNING: NOT for the squeamish. (So if you read it, you have only yourself to thank or blame.)

For those who don’t know me well enough yet, this happened to me when I was a kid. Feel free to comment, ask questions, or engage me through email if you prefer to speak privately (ask and ye shall receive my address). I’m open about this (and my mental disorders) because I want survivors to shed their unearned shame and get the help they need to sweep the monster from under the bed and LIVE their lives not as victims, but as true survivors. Peace, Amy

Too Close, No Comfort

She feels the proximity of the monster
Hears his footsteps
Smells his acrid third-martini breath

She should call out, scream
But it’s useless, no one comes to
help the child until afterwards

It’s over. She wet the bed again
but he never noticed, too busy with
her small, slack-jawed mouth

Will she ever tell the secret everyone knows,
or will she block it all out to preserve
what little sense of self remains?

Little girls have a capacity, as do little boys
to save retribution for adulthood,
when they are able to handle the history

Tears witnessed by a therapist,
perhaps meds to ease the trauma as it is relived
again and again, until the haunting stops

My dad never did the perp walk
Mom never admitted she knew
but my sweet revenge was forgiveness:

After all, he was the sick one.

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For Three Word Wednesday: Immobile, Proximity, Retribution

Pastor Hellevangelist

Sunday morning funnies aren’t in
the newspaper but on
TV, toupeed and pancaked
Those televangelists put on

quite a show, preachin’ ‘bout
all the horrible sins they know
will send YOU straight to Hell
Then the preacher’s healings they show

Miss “Mah sinuses ache” WHAM!
The Holy Spirit is there in his hand
She’s on the floor, flailing, flattened
Now he’s singin’ solo with the band

Amazing, grace has graced this man
with abundance straight from God:
Mansion, limo, trophy wife
Teleparishioners are awed

and send him money to keep up
his cathedral lifestyle
A few bucks to Darfur, but most
keeps up his shiny white smile

He’s quick on the drawl, sending
other folks all to Hell
‘til he’s caught with this mistress
at the local No-Tell Motel

or taking young boys under his wing
and under the covers
under cover of righteousness
Then his wife discovers

So Sunday, tune in, turn on to
the big show: The Satanic versus
the squeaky-clean teleGod man
He knows all the curses

© Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
Written for ABC Wednesday, brought to you by the letter P. Also at my cornerstone, Poets United.