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

Tag Archives: Sunday Whirl

ROOTED (dedicated to Miss Forward)

Mama never got over being on the road with bands.
“Keep your roots shallow,” she said,
“so you can pull up and move on when it’s time.”

Yet, after wandering for many years,
I find myself grounded, firmly rooted.
Maybe it’s the friendships we’ve forged.

My innate knack for blooming in any new
place I was transplanted (quite often) from coast
to coast, and sometimes in the ocean, small isles.

Relentless in my search for home, the
perfect church… a city with a full spectrum
of cultures, history, creativity (plus a few vultures)

Some artists of delicate mien, others rampant,
unrepentant rowdies, all with eyes and voices meant
to rejuvenate others, if only for art’s own sake.

Madison. Never bland; blooming flowers or snow banks,
it’s all good, as long as the local microbrew beer
and the silk long johns hold out.

Grounded, circles of friends interconnect, grapevines
forming beneath the surface of simple kinship.
Home isn’t where I hang my hat.

It’s where I have planted my soul, patting down soil
in this haven of lefties, young and old, rippin’ good worship, and
a golden lady on the capital dome, wearing a badger helmet.*

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

My first posting since hearing my brain MRI was negative… I mean, I still have a brain, but it’s tumor, clot, and stroke-free. This poem, for Sunday Scribblings (Grounded) and The Sunday Whirl (see Wordle HERE), is a celebration of sorts, as well as a love song for our adopted home, Madison, WI.  This is also posted at my poetic home, Poets United.

*The “golden lady” is called Miss Forward, and she shines at the peak of the dome. She can be seen from a mile away. She does indeed wear a helmet with the shape of a badger, our state mammal, on top. Everything here is Badger: basketball, local football, everyone wears red. BADGER red. Me? I’m more of a ‘honeybadger.’ (wink) Peace, Amy

Interview With Sgt. Davis, Kabul, 2012

“Am I sorry I enlisted? Hmm…”
The reporter waits as the sergeant takes
one long draw on a Lucky. She
exhales her answer in a cloud:

“At first, yeah. I mean, you’re
surrounded by big ole boo-rah boys,
they’re staring at your boobs. Little
whispers, lick their lips, high school shit.

“Faces like little boys opening
Christmas presents: “This one
is MINE!” Like I’m a thing, like
that chess piece? A pawn.

“Then the testosterone starts: A
shove at my shoulder, telling me
I don’t belong here. And that was
in Boot, in the States, you hear me?”

Sgt. Davis falls silent and takes
another drag. “I remember the
final attempt to break my pride.
Three against one: the showers.

“Taking turns, daring me to scream,
saying ‘Call your mama, little girl,’
and I don’t tell the sarge, ‘cause if
I do, they’re gonna do it again.

“Tried to bust me, but they were wrong.
My grandma raised me, she used to say
God only makes beauty; it’s people
make their own selves ugly.

“She’s in my dreams. We’ll be rocking
on the front porch, sipping coffee.”
Pause. A sip of bitter brown hot.
“Here’s the thing. I know they finally

figured out I got as much fire in the belly
as any of them punkass boys. Now I’m
their sergeant. They do what I say, and
women in my unit are safe, protected.

“Well, time to fire up my unit. We’re
outta here at oh-two-hundred, night raids.
One thing… I’m proud to serve, but what
we’re serving up here is bullshit, you hear?

“Write it down: BULL. SHIT. Women’s
life here, worse that anything I ever saw
back home, and we’re doing nothing that
won’t go back to the old ways.

“Nice talkin’ to ya.” She grins and extends
a knuckle-bruised, weathered hand. “Time to
kick some ass in the name of democracy and
Burger King, keep burqas off the women for a while.”

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Sunday Whirl gave us a baker’s dozen. See the Wordle HERE and check out other poets!  Also on the sidebar at my port in any storm, Poets United.  PEACE, Amy

Playing Bongos in Topanga Canyon

Several members of our tribe are
breathing slowly, exhaling with tenderness
the holy incense of the day

Shakha opens tent flaps and
scurries to exchange the
stinky bong water for fresh

Empties grimy slog into
Topanga Canyon’s stream
without fear of discovery

We are in the back of
the deep woods now
Our prayers answered

Don strums his twelve-string
as singers attempt the dazed
yet sweet harmonies of ambivalence

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For The Sunday Whirl, click to see Wordle and other folks’ posts. Thanks, Brenda, for some words that almost gave me a contact high… but that was the 70s for ya. The memories do linger after all these years. Some flashbacks are quite sweet, and so are the people.

Also at my poetic all-time clear-headed high, Poets United!

I’m finally back from vacation. We are well but tired… I watched most of the Republican Convention and am in the midst of reviewing the Democratic Convention. I wish more people would watch BOTH sides of the damned “aisle”!

Couldn’t stop thinking about the troops as I watched those foolish delegates in their funny hats, all having fun during what should be a defining moment in politics. So here is my tribute to one selfless servant.  Peace, Amy

Nurse in the Field (Afghanistan)

Nine hours into her shift
she steals a moment to smooth
errant hairs, captured and secured by
mock tortoise side combs.

The last wave was
a mind-numbing parade of
the barely living
and the too-soon dead.

Checking the morphine drip on
an amputee, she wonders why
nurses dress in pastel scrubs.
Cruel joke, the blood spatter,
carrying iodine-splattered lost limbs
across to the bins.

She used to count the number
of fingers and toes per shift; something
to divert her mind from the horror.
Now she breathes in madness, exhales exhaustion.

In WWI, they were gassed and blinded.
In the Second, shot or blown to pieces by grenades.
In Nam (where her mom served), they bathed our boys
in the finest toxins Dow and co. could manufacture.
Agent Orange could kick 007’s ass easily, if slowly.

Now men and women are hit by drones, as
stateside geeks “do battle” like a game of Pac-Man.
They cannot be sure of their target other than from
“actionable (questionable) intelligence.” Tonight
it might be a grandmother and her family, or the
piece de resistance of warspeak: “Friendly fire.”

The nurse strips fatigues from a screaming airman.
His legs lie still but arms are flailing like a meth-head.
Restraints: cruel but necessary as she injects morphine.
Evidence of spinal damage, extensive brain trauma…
She croons, “Slooooow down, we’ve gotcha.” Her
honeyed voice seems to sooth him, “You’re gonna
be all ri-” Then the flat line no greased paddles will stir.

She’ll hear five final, strangled exhalations before
her break comes up. A few hours of sleep, and
she’ll emerge looking refreshed, gearing up for
the second-roughest game in Kabul:
Patching up the pawns, gurneyed pieces
from the chess board of battle.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For The Sunday Whirl (Wordle is shown below), dverse Open Mic Night, and Sunday Scribblings (the prompt was Soothe). Also at the site where I am always soothed: Poets United.

Broken Record

Once I prayed for a lover who would
treasure me, pleasure me, measure me by
no other standard but my own.

Together on the porch swing,
humming that Simon & Garfunkel tune
(and what a time it was, it was…)

Me, the deer who steered clear
of headlights, and he, my
melancholy golden boy.

Long sweetsweat hours of
erotic coupling, rolling, gripping,
souls afire, blinding, shining oneness.

Picture him as he stays to graze,
then strays to the next aster-speckled
pasture, scent of honey drawing him away.

Betrayal, best rendered in coal black,
ebony spray to cover the mirror and the
rosy glasses though which a love

was seen blooming in pale, fragile hues
of pink and yellow, delicate colors
of columbine swaying in our meadow.

Uproot it all now, fling it into the coals
of after the afterglow. Let lost love
crackle until only powdered ash remains.

Once I prayed for a lover who would
treasure me. Golden was he indeed,
and golden still, shining out of my reach.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
Triple prompt: Sunday Scribblings asked for Treasure, while Poetic Bloomings wanted Betrayal. Those two concepts seem like star-crossed lovers at times. Then the Sunday Whirl gave me inspiring words: Swing, Gold, Melancholy, Rosy, Pray, Spray, Powders, Glasses, Erotic, Pale, Fling, Strays, and Cover. Also posted at my poetic meadow, Poets United. Also for dverse Open Mic Night!

Please be sure to read the explanation at the bottom of this post; otherwise, I’ll have every single stay-at-home mom mad at me, and that’s not my intention!! Peace and an Oreo dipped in milk, Amy

Housewife Envy*

I have always envied housewives.
Each morning, pulling crisp aprons
from drawers under counters crowded
with kids’ art awaiting a place on the fridge.
Willing the bacon to crisp, flipping
hotcakes on a Revere-ware skillet.
Had I but known that it only took
one drunken prom night spree in
the back of his souped-up Chevrolet,
just blooming at the shotgun wedding…

I, too, could include myself in the
year-round bliss of Tupperware parties;
Bloody-Mary-and-Bridge afternoons;
summer months spent gazing out the
window watching our neighborhood’s
rowdy, mud-caked munchkins until
Fall. Then, one by one, my own brood
would thrill to new lunchboxes and
come home smelling of crayons and
some other kid’s egg salad sandwich…

I wish I’d realized that to spurn those
high-school advances of Jimmy Parker
was like shredding my ticket to ride;
I would not feel so darned ignorant now.
Housewives get all the real news from
their husbands, entertainment from TV.
They subtract their own little extras from
the shopping list to stick to the budget,
and the only balls they need are made of
cotton, to wipe off Noxzema each night.

But here in this smoke-filled piano bar,
as another twenty drops in my tip jar, I
abandon the sting of this jealousy and
face reality: I’m stuck traveling to cities
like Hamilton, Bermuda, wearing a daring
cut-down-to-there number, making my
way in the world. Always on the move,
waiting for the crowd to feed me their
electricity through our mutual umbilical
cord of jazz, wisecracks, and dry martinis.

If I were a housewife, I would be pampered,
cared for, and I’d only have to spread my legs
once in a while and put up with the sting of
unschooled sex. I might wonder about the
uncertain lives of girls like me, who constantly
have to update their passports, who buy their
own jewelry from this year’s collection, who
hustle their way through airports to catch a
plane to the next destination, the next show…
If only I were a housewife, I’d be lucky.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
*IMPORTANT NOTE: I hold the greatest respect for mothers who are able to stay at home with their children; in fact, I consider it the most noble of pursuits. The “housewives” moniker is insulting to me as a feminist, because I believe staying at home is a viable CHOICE among many choices. But a prompt is a prompt, and since the poem presumes that all stay-at-home moms do is sit on their asses eating bonbons, sucking up booze, and watching soaps, I will accept all criticism. Please know that, after my years as a single working mother, I was indeed envious of moms who could be with their kids after school.

For Trifecta, “tongue in cheek,” and The Sunday Whirl: Housewives, Months, Year, Ignorant, Subtracting, Sting, Rind, Balls, Fall, Drawers, Spurn, Electricity.

This is when I realized that I was, indeed, THAT far behind. Here is the Wordle from the current week’s Baker’s Dozen, followed by one from last week’s words. Brenda Warren, you are a creative source and very much loved by this here sharp little blog!! This is also at my poetic meeting place, Poets United.

Ironically, the two poems could be a “before” and “after” sequence. But as it is, I’ll pray for peace. Amy


Ain’t no draft in this war
‘sides, the rich folks’d
pull strings so their kid’d
be son-of-a-Bush Leaguin

We got through Boot,
crack troops, they say.
Yeah, there’s crack for sure
here, and some good weed

Bad meth got Duffy in
a zombie trance then BOOM! he’s
beatin his chest, temper real high,
hell, he was real high, making a

racket, kickin over the table
beer makin soup outta my
Lucky Strikes. Now Duffy, he’s
locked up, latch like a dog.

Recruiter, he says at the BK,
“Currently (yeah, they talk like that)
we require troops who refrain from
drug use and talk straight, you know?”

Yeah, I can hear him now over the bombs.
Straight, but you know that ain’t about talk,
it’s bout the showers. And somethin bout drugs.
“Hey, I can do that,” I say, “sign me up.”

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For the Sunday Whirl: Draft, Crack, Spare, Refrain, Strike, Temper, Chest, Blend, String, Racket, Trance, Latch, Current.
DAY 38

Crawlin to another meeting
in my rust-stained Corona.
Dirty jeans and the same shirt
I wore overnight in the back seat.

Parkin in the shadows, near
little bluffs where prairie grasses
brush against the very air,
I swear, it’s a real trip.

Now the willow slaps the roof
of my car, dippin low to whisper:
“Here we are again, my friend.
Remember the first time, you
trembled, decaf in one hand,
12-Step book in the other.
Three days out of the mud then,
not stoned, not wasted?  One nerve
short of suicide?”

Damn if the tree ain’t right.
I remember that night,
I was sure enough that scared,
cause the meeting was downstairs
in a church. Only sacred vessels
are in there, not homeless guys.

The willow creaks and sighs,
“Don’t forget the man
with a nail in each hand.
Never a pillow for his head,”
the weeping willow said.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For LAST WEEK’S Whirl: Crawl, Shadows, Nail, Corona, Vessels, Brush, Stain, Bluffs, Trembled, Stones, Willow, Mud.

After tonight’s depressing turn of events here in Wisconsin, where a dunce has retained his cap because the King lent him $30 million – no strings attached, of course… ugh. Anyway, I had to think of something positive. And nothing is more heartening than a tale of a Madison small business that makes artists out of people who simply assume they have no talent. Kim, this one’s for you and your intrepid crew!


Workplayhijinks at
the local pottery shop.

Monica molds clay into
small discs; she’ll chisel

Celtic figures to fashion runes,
piercing each disc with a lace.

A mistake with clay?
Hey, crumple, start over.

At another table, colors
burst forth as Stephanie

dips her sponge to draw forth
bright discs of color on

a black cup; the design
beats any we’ve seen, as

intricate dots are dropped
into the circles in third dimension.

Karen splits her spoon rest
into shades that will please

her kitchen. She’s done this
before, you can tell, she does it well.

CRASH! Something goes
over the table edge.

Owner Kim sweeps up. She’s
earned every bruise on her knees.

She crouches to retrieve
shards of hardened “baked goods.”

I wonder what closing time is like.
The kiln, glazing over bits of art,

and Kim’s face, beaming as she surveys
her corner of the creative world.

The kiln, or Kim…
which glows more?

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For The Sunday Whirl: Bruise, Chisel, Crumple, Crouch, Crash, Edge, Split, Draw, Pierce, Burst, Beat, and Glow.

Image courtesy of, a royalty-free photo resource.

At FIRED uP!, owner Kim Stanfill-McMillan makes sure the members of her staff are all sassy, fun people. Girl Scout troops come in groups; home school kids have projects; and there’s a Ladies’ Night, where we all brown-bag our own bottles of Zin or beer… I combined two separate occasions because I wanted to mention all my friends and our projects!

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.

First, a plug for my friend Dani’s site, My Heart’s Love Songs. I am honored to be the featured poet at her blog this week, and she speaks about the global community we are creating by interlinking our blogs. Thanks, Dani!

Always and Forever, Ironweed (dammit)

Our first spring here, a bit of garden space.
Colors came to every garden, save ours.
Only one flower – no crocuses, nor lilies,
nor tulips – but a massive bush of columbine.

Its flowers, sweet pink and yellow
Surveying the remainder: Weeds.
Carefully planted, cultivated weeds,
but who the hell cultivates weeds anyway?

Milkweed and the invasive monster
known as Ironweed, plus some grasses.
Friends took snippets, but what remained
was grief, plus my secret desire to torch it all.

I’m not hip to gardening, nor drawn to
communing with worms… so, with pretty new
red spade in hand (hey, at least I’m
fashionable), I delved into the muck.

Dug around, dug into, but never got under
the pernicious Ironweed. The stillness of
the evening shattered by my clatter, the
prying, the watering of clay dirt to loosen soil,

fingers fumbling, a botched surgery in an
intestinal mess that was the bowel of the weed,
until, YES! One last backbreaking tug – the
plant uprooted and I was on my ass, triumphant.

Attached to the weed’s butt, yam-like, marrowed
spurs of root, tangled as Kardashians in a mosh pit,
evil as Triffids – or those pods in the horror
movie that hatch your zombie replacement.

(Perhaps this is how the Tea Party started?)

Next day, peering out our kitchen window. Monica’s
birthday snapdragons, potted and hanging from
a shepherd’s hook; the lovely, swaying columbine;
fresh-planted herbs; two new begonias and…

an offshoot sprig of Ironweed, fully two feet
from the devil’s own plant I’d just dug up.
I s’pose my pod replicant can deal with this,
once it’s done growing the New Me in our basement.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For Sunday Scribblings, “Always,”and for The Sunday Whirl: Secret, Colors, Window, Grief, Massive, Hips, Clatter, Marrow, Perhaps, Hand, Flower, Stillness, Crocuses.
Also at my poetic garden (which has no Ironweed), Poets United and at dverse Open Mic Night!