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

Tag Archives: Social Justice

Imaginary Garden With Real Toads, my April Poem A Day hangout, wanted poems about “melting,” but with an interesting twist: NO use of words like hot, cold, fire, or ice! So my original thought, “What a world! What a world…” a la the Wicked Witch was out the door. Ditto romantic heat. So I turned to… the news. Also at my hearth and home, Poets United.

Boston Meltdown

“We’re stuck in our house,
Diane,” she tells ABC News.
“Trying to figure out what’s
for dinner. My husband’s
defying the cops, going over
to the butcher shop… that guy’s
gonna make a mint, Mike’s
buying filet mignon.”

“And how do you feel
about this ordeal?” intones
Sawyer, safe in the studio.

“What ordeal? This is America,
and yeah, now we’re on lockdown.
My confidence in personal freedom
may be melting around the edges,
but now I kind of understand what
Afghanis go through every day.”

© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Based on an ABC News interview of a Cambridge, MA resident. I am glad they caught the second suspected bomber alive, and I hope he makes it to trial. Peace, and prayers to all in Boston and West Texas, Amy

Mary, Queen of Rights

Raise your voices as one
to a woman who lost it all:
Widowed, children dead from dread yellow fever.
After kids perished, she nursed neighbors.

To a woman who rose from grief and chose
to take up the burden of others:
Mothers, fathers, children, 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 the likes of 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; she saw only exploited masses.

She trod into the mines and the mills.
She talked in the fields, where the hopeless
worked long hours under punishing conditions.
She could juggle advocacy, jailings, and public speaking;
she was, indeed, “the most dangerous woman in America.”

She spoke of dignity (if she’d stopped short there,
she’d never have been slapped in 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 to break up strikes.

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 fatten up through union dues
(are you listening, gentlemen?).
A woman who taught us that, no matter what
the rank and file must be protected:

Raise your glasses high to Mary “Mother” Jones.

© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For Trifecta, which tossed us the word “juggle” in the sense of handling many tasks. Perfect for this subject, no? Also for dverse Open Mic Night.

In our house growing up, Mother Jones was a patron saint. Social justice is only achieved when regular folks get together to affect change. If anyone could be considered “just folks,” it was Mary Jones. I wonder what she would think of some of our union leaders today? For as the rich demonize unions and spit on the rank and file, they should really address their complaints to greedy union bosses, something Mother Jones warned us about in her autobiography.

Remember, it’s not the average wage slave at fault: It’s corrupt bosses, bought off by the likes of the “usual suspects,” the ALEC crew and the Kochs. UNION YES!

In the words of Mother Jones, “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living,” Amy

Photo used by permission of the Women’s Rights Museum.

Ally Web
My main ambition
my true volition
is to drain my head
through the lead
of a Ticonderoga #2
with poems, bright or blue

While others try
to paint a sky or butterfly, I
pollock my journals
with words scrawled above urinals
and turn folks off with truth
about dads, late nights, and vermouth

Social injustice feeds my need
I write with deliberate speed
before the thought goes awry
(my steel-sieve mind is known to fly)
And just when they think
I’m on the brink

of a total implosion
or mental erosion
I’ll come back with one
about how clowns aren’t fun
or talk to the president, poet-to-man
because drones still rule Afghanistan

Frackers, have fear
Amy’s still here
Secret Service, kiss my ass
I’ll face you again before I pass
And Blanche, my angel of mystery
Keep on sending vibes to me

I write to prove
I’m in the groove
The straight girl who’s an ally
to every queer woman and guy
I write to say,
“I’m here today”

© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

for dverse, Brian Miller’s Pretzels & Bullfights wanted a poem about why we write. Me? It’s all about the bitching and the truth-blood-letting and the mental illness and the child abuse… and making it understandable for those who either have experienced it or need to understand.

These poems are dedicated to the women of Afghanistan, and I thank Kenia at Imaginary Garden With Real Toads for introducing us to the landai, the form of which is explained below in notes, along with other information. This is also on the sidebar at Poets United and at ABC Wednesday, where we are on the letter “J.” This is my favorite J word. Peace, Amy

JUSTICE for women in oppressive regimes

How can ‘women’s spirits hold up half the sky’*
when their earthbound selves swelter under the burqa

Women nurture their baby boys at swollen breasts
only to watch them grow up and oppress their mothers

I am ten paces behind my husband, I make out his shape through net
I am ten generations behind my husband – this burqa, my ceiling

She wanted only to read, write, work figures, create
Acid was tossed in my little girl’s face for this grave sin

Mullah in the madrassa, my brother’s fate in his hands
Mother in the market, her fate already decided

How can I find peace with Americans on my street
when uniforms and guns serve as their faces?

The Prophet (PBUH)** elevated women to rights and inheritance
Ayatollahs strip us of those rights and instead force upon us burqas

On a day I will never live to see, my daughter will shed her burqa,
renounce the veil, leave this town, go to university, be free

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

* Kenia encouraged cooperation and playing off one another’s landai. This line, an old Chinese proverb, was used in a landai by Sherry Blue Sky – view her collection HERE.

** “Peace Be Upon Him,” traditionally said after invoking the name of either “The Prophet” or “The Prophet Mohammed.”

NOTES: According to Kenia at Imaginary Garden With Real Toads:

“The word landai means “short, poisonous snake” in Pashto. The poems are (two lines and) collective — no single person writes a landai; a woman repeats one, shares one. It is hers and not hers. Although men do recite them, almost all are cast in the voices of women.”

I had only to think of a movie I saw yesterday, Kandahar (2001). A woman who had escaped Afghanistan years before seeks to return, as her sister has written she plans to take her own life. Based on the story of Nelofer Pazira, who stars in the movie, I was struck by how the burqas had festive colors, since the burqa itself stands as a disgrace upon the leaders of conservative nations. It is a socioeconomic stance, country by country, as to what women are allowed to wear, whether they may attend school… whether they can stay alive when they fall down and accidentally show an ankle. Another movie about the lives of women in brutal regimes, also based on a true story – tough to watch but important to witness: The Stoning of Soraya M.

Black Sheep (a tale of three sisters)

Our mother, civil rights fighter

Big sister
Rebellious, slutty teen
Now Fundamentalist Rightie

Middle sister
Former activist
Now Tea Party

Little sister
Feminist, liberal Christian social activist

Two drank Kool-Aid

I’m an orphan

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For Trifecta, the challenge was to use the “Rule of Three,” in exactly 33 words. Hope my sisters do not read this, but, hey, if they do, it’s true! The number three was always tricky, as Mom (social justice applying everywhere but in our home) often pitted us against each other.

Triangulation, thy name is Charlotte.  Love you, Mom, but really…!  Peace to all, Amy

Comes the Revolution…
(For Riley)

Comes the revolution,
I want you in my trench.

Comes the day we say “No more!”
I want you at my side.

I schooled you on our rights;
you’re steeped in the shameful history

of slavery, of suffrage, of civil rights denied,
of how it’s always someone else’s turn

to be not white enough, not male enough,
not straight enough, not American enough;

to be trod upon, to be spat upon
especially via metaphor and the airwaves.

You, a Jew raised in the U.C.C.
(Upfront, Confrontational Christians!)

In your blood, remnants of the Holocaust;
in your training, social justice for all.

That pedigree makes for speaking truth to power,
for passion, for radical, unconditional love.

This revolution will be
one of words, not weapons

Only the undereducated run out of words,
falling back on hate speech and violence.

Though their sound bytes nip at our heels,
we will not run. We will turn and debate.

Comes the revolution, our trench will be
filled with books, journals, and understanding.

So keep sharp your mind, daughter mine
because the revolution is at our door:

The War on Women – our rights,
our bodies, our station, our future.

What we do now is “not for ourselves alone,”
but for all females in generations to come.

We claim our right as citizens of the world
to be who we are, love who we may, and

figure out for our selves what is best
when put to the test of The Pink Stick Follies.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For Sunday Scribblings, Revolution – and for dverse Open Mic Night. Also “in the margin” on Poets United. Also for Trifecta: Radical.

The quote “Not For Ourselves Alone” is usually attributed to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but its first usage came from a man, Marcus Tullius Cicero: “Non nobis solum nati sumus. (Not for ourselves alone are we born.)”

NOTE: When Riley was a senior in high school, I wrote a piece for her yearbook, as did many parents. Mine included the phrase, “Comes the revolution, I want you in my trench.” Since then, she has come out, moved West, entered an art institute, and continues to blossom. Happy birthday, beba.

It seems quite ironic that we are indeed on the verge of an actual revolution, and the stakes could not be higher. We are lucky to have so many enlightened men alongside us in the fight. Let’s hope that the “White is Right and Women Should Shut the Hell Up” militias disband… due to pressure from their mothers!

The amazing Joseph Harker of Naming Constellations asked for a personal hymn (or hymns), starting with something we have never heard a hymn written about… it’s a long prompt, so check it out HERE. These are the fruits of my labors, my three hymns in the heart of a Sunday night.  I will also post this on Tuesday at dverse Open Mic Night and at Poets United.  Thanks again, Joseph.  Peace, Amy

Hymn to Her

Trapped in the overgrown patch
called my garden. Titan prairie grasses
tickle the screens, engulf potted plants.

I, the prairie avenger, armed with
scissors, hacksaw, kneepads, and gloves
shape, tame, make symmetry of chaos

forgetting that grasses once ran wild here
long before my aim of a forced, polite posyland.
Blessed are those who walk in Her overgrown path.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil


This is my shrine
It’s wholly mine

A framed reproduction of Kinkaide’s kitschy two-story clapboard
in muted tones, Photoshopped with images of prostitutes. The
ice cream truck parked out front says “Gone Fishing”;
silhouetted against a shade, Mr. Softee is obviously hard.

This is my shrine
It’s wholly mine

This may seem odd for inclusion in my confusion of a
work space, but, with other talisman… a rainbow glass fish,
pads and pencils, Riley at seven – little hippie in Lennon glasses,
all these stir my imagination, invite the spirit in to dwell within

this sinner.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Give Me But One Chance

Give me but one chance
to teach another to dance

To look upon others
not as “them” but as brothers

Give me a servant’s hands
fulfilling needs, not commands

Help me to hold close those
whose ribs I can feel ‘neath clothes

Keep me awake, aware
to go where others never dare

Keep me just off kilter
so I possess no societal filter

And thus remind all humankind
our common threads are the ties that bind

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Going the Distance:
“Who Do You Think You Are, Amy Barlow Liberatore?”

Let’s hear what everybody else says first:

“You were born 40 and you’re working your way backwards,”
said my mom, when I was 7

“Charmful little armful,”
said my musical mentor

“She can SANG!
said our African-American piano player

“Get that bitch off the podium!”
snarled the Buffalo cop at a peace rally

“Please don’t say that about your dad,”
cried my mom, when I was 35

“You’re not a dyke, why should you care?”
asked a Fundie at a PRIDE rally (when I challenged their ‘God Hates Fags’ sign)

“Good thing you can sing. Your dancing sucks,”
joked my friend at a big band concert

“You’re not a victim; you’re a survivor,”
said my therapist

“You wear manic depression well,”
grinned my psychiatrist

“You have the soul of a dinosaur,”
said the oracle Sidnie

“Don’t hold back, tell us how you really feel,”
say bloggers (with a wink)

slobbered countless drunks at my piano bar

“You’re just a gay man trapped in a straight woman’s body,”
said Jeffery, may he rest in peace

“You’re going to hell for encouraging those homosexuals,”
say… too many people to mention

“If you’re going to hell, it’s gonna be in a FABulous handbasket,”
giggled Jason

“Thanks for the lessons,”
said my BFF (and only he will understand that comment)

“I have no dramatic coming-out story because you were so accepting,”
laughed Riley

“She’s a pain in the ass,”
said the FBI agent, flipping through my file

“Take it off! Take it off!”
cried Christopher after I sang a comedic song about stripper envy

“Because she questions my authority,”
said the principal to my mother, as I sat in detention

“You are SO worth it,”
says my husband, over and over again

My life is chaotic peace.

I’m a sharp little pencil, still writing my life.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For Poetic Bloomings (“Who Do You Think You Are?”), for Sunday Scribblings (distance), and for the Poetry Pantry at Poets United.


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.

I don’t normally re-blog, but The Dark Globe had a reasoned, enlightening view on LGBTQ rights and the Constitution that did NOT include religion.

It’s a well-crafted essay by a person who is NOT “pro-gay,” nor is he “anti-gay.” Intriguing, and I heartily suggest you read and comment. Peace to all, Amy

Gay Rights in America.