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

Tag Archives: Survivors

determined swimmer 001

Acrylic on canvas, 9×12 by Amy Barlow (Liberatore)

Determined Swimmer

She’s good in water
A determined swimmer
An athlete going for the gold
With each stroke, determination grows
Hope flows with coursing blood

(a flash of daddy’s face)

Swimming for her life
or because of it
Because water will wash away
traces of THAT
Wash her clean of past, passed

(what happened, over and over again)

Almost there
Air collapsing from her lungs outward
The sea, an effervescent bubble mass
of inside, now outside

(he’s dead yet alive, too alive and too strong)

The picture fades from view
Her eyes shine in a wide-awake stare
A limp doll sleeping
on solid ground
at last

© 2015 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

The painting says it all, if you understand her determination. I have felt like this, too many times. May all who have been abused find peace… peace that does not need this kind of plunge. Amy


Iowa

In the stifling summer of ‘34
when drought hit Iowa hard
like brick on bone

my grandma Blanche packed up the family
for another Midnight Shhhhh! Move
(before the landlord came for the rent)

This time they hitched a ride
out of Council Bluffs to Lake Manawah
and settled in a summer cottage

They squatted there year-round
as did other families, who had
their own stories of landlords

Blanche fed every man who rode the rails
They put up signs for the next hobos:
A cat (“kind lady”) and two shovels (“work here”)

She felt that every person deserved food, medicine, and
shelter (today, this is called Socialism) and that
giving the men a task helped build their egos

So Dorney swept the steps and Gibb fed the chickens
(“borrowed” by Blanche on their way out of town)
while another collected eggs and so on. They never

stayed long. Blanche later insisted the term “Hobo”
was not slander but, as in H.L. Mencken’s writings,
it meant “homeward bound.” Indeed, some went “home”

right in their back room, too sick, too weary to go on.
Blanche knew the doctor, got them morphine, helped them
sip broth. She also washed them, like family, before burial.

When I asked my mom about those days, it began a years-long,
booze-fed, continuing conversation about poverty, the
Dust Bowl, generosity, and the human spirit. Blanche, before her

in those days, was Ma Joad incarnate, with a touch of
Woody Guthrie. “But Mom,” I said, “you got to live in a
cottage by a lake. Where did Grandpa get that kind of money?”

My mother Charlotte, Blanche’s only daughter,
gazed out the back window and smiled ruefully: “Child, it
may have been a lake, but there was no water in it back then.”

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For Sunday Scribblings, the prompt is apropos: Drought. The Great Depression coincided with one of the worst droughts in American history. Bad agricultural practices were largely to blame, and it seems all we’ve learned is how to bio-engineer Frankenseeds to forestall the inevitable. Indigenous Americans knew how to plant and harvest; how to move south in the colder months, giving the land a chance to renew; and how to treat the earth with respect.

NOTE: Ma Joad is one of the main characters in John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes Of Wrath. The movie starred Henry Fonda as Tom, the eldest son, and Jane Darwell as Ma. Her embodiment of that character, Ma’s feistiness and compassion, won her an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress of 1940.

I like to think of Blanche in those days as part Ma Joad, part Steinbeck. Although she never wrote a book, Blanche was a voracious reader and self-taught scholar. That’s how she knew about Mencken, Upton Sinclair, and the like. She went to her grave despising Ayn Rand’s opinion that “altruism is evil” and her novel, The Fountainhead, which espoused that every person should look after themselves: “If we hadn’t lived near the tracks, who would have fed them? All the other houses had hobo signs like rectangles with a dot in the middle, ‘Dangerous.’ People thought I was nuts to try to feed these men. I guess that’s why I got committed eventually – Bill thought so too. But what’s crazy about taking care of each other in hard times?”

I’m proud to be Blanche Laughlin’s granddaughter. This is also at my poetic lake with water IN IT, Poets United.


Real Women

Real women have curves
nerves of tempered steel
Watching promotions
granted to men of
lesser talent,
their hearts stolen by
lesser loves
until…

Real women revel in truth,
revive opinions stifled
again and again,
say their piece and
back it up with actions.

Some women shape the future
by giving the world
the next wild, willful
generation of humanity,
nurturing and guiding.

Others act as guides,
spiritual doulas,
friends who also nurture
the character of those children.
The Aunties Extraordinaire.

Real women love.
We love to love.
To make love, to share body and soul.
Even when swallowed by self-doubt,
surfacing with the pliable beauty
of sirens,
assured,
assuring,
ascendant.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
Photo from History Central, archival shot of the inimitable Mae West, who once said, “No man ever loved me like I love myself.”
For dverse Open Mic Night, because real women ROCK!


Banjo Man (1980 and now)

He shines like a dime when he picks up his ax
He needs this job; these, the flinty hard facts

He smiles and he banters; he’s playing the game
Of what to do once you’ve been dumped by Big Fame…

…If he knew today what we’d thought about him
He’d think “singing waiter” much more than a whim

So many bright moments when we thought, “Oh, man,
he’s a mensch, a survivor – he’s part of The Plan.”

If time were more flexible; had I a jinn,
would that we could do it over again

Humanity, best learned recouping your loss
Humility, best served with extra rib sauce

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Photo courtesy of Musician’s Friend