Posted in Fragile Life, Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Violence in the home

Aladdin’s Lamp-a poem on spanking

There’s a lot of talk about the “right way” to use spanking as discipline–and to my beloved father’s credit, he always used it in a disciplined manner–only my body/spirit didn’t register the difference.

My family (before the fall), Circa 1981
My family (before the fall), Circa 1981

“The past is an Aladdin’s lamp which (we) never tire of rubbing”
Phillip Lopate

Sitting in Amy’s Bakery next to a plate smeared with jam and butter,
a half mug of hot cider in my hand,
the fog drifting over the river, and yoga in my
bones, I am the only one who jumps when a man drops his umbrella.
No one else even flinches.

I ask myself:
“What’s up?”

Deep breath, and I hear the hammers banging away at my therapist’s office–yesterday–and the sound of my dad’s footsteps coming up the stairs–a lifetime ago:
belt snapping
heart seizing
muscles tightening across my back and chest.

i cower in the corner of my bed;
while my vertebrae freeze with rage.

A voice rises from deep in my gut:

But that is now;
Then, i only plead,
“No, Daddy, no!”
as I cover my thigh with my hand,
and scramble to fit even further into the corner
till my spine burns itself into the wall
and still,
i don’t disappear.

The belt slaps, once,
three times,
and i am…

Like a dog

Some day…
i will escape this tiny body, this whimpering tone, and rise above him, like an evil genie out of a bottle,
green and black
booming with power and threat
and he will be vanquished
turned to dust.

Until then, I
speak up;
I fight injustice;
even though it always ends the same
spanked or sent to my room for hours

the fall
of my freshman year at college;
home for the weekend;
playing the white baby grand in the parlor;
the theme song from “Endless Love.”

As he calls to me from his room above,
“Kelly Ann, Time for bed!”

My back bristles and hardens.

“Kelly Ann, did you hear me: Time for bed!” he hollers again

As I continue playing, finally dismissing his voice like he dismissed mine.

“KELLY ANN!” he booms, shaking my entire life.

I pound the keys.

I hear his footsteps down the stairs,
his 6 foot 4 body appearing in the doorway:

“If you want to see what happens then you can just keep on playing,” he says,
childishly, exposing his hand.

I twist from the keys and throw down all my cards.

“And if you want to see what happens you can just keep on playing…” I say back, mocking him, my hands on my hips, just like his.


In two strides he crosses the room.

I rise to meet him in my power;

But i am not the genie;
i am 5 foot 2.

He strikes
once, twice…

Swiping my eye, my cheek

I fall

Stand up again

Hot words fly

We move from the piano
toward the couch
beside the marble table
where my grandmother, his mother, in what was once her house, lined pretzel gold fish to entice me to toddle across the room on my feet instead of my knees

He swipes a third time
and leaves me there
on the floor

I do not cry

I have won

or have i?

He has never hit me
like this before;
not like a wife.

I have always been
splayed out over his lap
pants down, age 4, 7, 9;
or bed shirt lifted above the thigh, age 10, 11, 12.

I stumble toward the kitchen for ice;
for a drink of water;
for my keys.

My mother arrives there in the dark, shrouded.
I hold back tears, knowing she’s come to comfort me;
but she doesn’t even look up when she says,
“You shouldn’t talk to your father that way.”

I am stunned, and suddenly I see her, really see her:
cloaked in a robe of fear,
unable to feel, anything,
leaving us each alone, in this dark kitchen, where we have laughed and confided and cooked his meals together.

“You need to know how to make mashed potatoes,” he once bellowed at me when she was gone.

He has hit her too: “Only once or twice when she couldn’t get control of herself,” he explained.

I drive the empty island blocks
toward my boyfriend’s house on Palm;
where everyone is sleeping.
He’s not home.

I lie down on the sectional under the bay window;
and stare at the street lights
bringing my fingers to my swollen cheek, my eye,
until the cold of the ice I placed there moves inside.

When my boyfriend arrives, he offers to go in my defense,
but he’s not much bigger than me,
and it is over now anyway.
I have swallowed it whole.

My father often remarks
that one of us will leave
before I turn 18, adding,
“And it ain’t gonna be me,” he says with a snarl.

Didn’t his mother say the same thing?
In the same room?
Of the same house?

But it is he, who leaves, again,
when my mother takes a lover,
half her age,
my boyfriend’s best friend.

She thinks she’ll escape from her frozen life,
until she realizes;
that it’s her life’s pain that needs to thaw.

I return
to college;
and when that’s is enough distance between me and the pain at home,
when my sisters still call
to say,
“Mom is lying, drunk, on the front lawn,”
“The car window is smashed and there is blood,”
“Dad has called us horrible names, shouted terrible things about her,”
or that
“He’s threatening to send us back to her if we don’t behave,”

I open the doors onto Overbrook Avenue in Philadelphia,
and scream…
and then return to my studies,
putting an Ocean between me and that pain,
with a semester abroad;
so far away, that no one calls,
not even to say,
that my grandmother has died;
that her funeral has already taken place.

Lonely and adrift and estranged,
I anticipate
my father and his soon-to-be stepmother’s trip visit.

They check out of the modest hotel that he had me meticulously find;
and move into the Savoy at Her bidding.

My sister sleeps on my floor while they go shopping without us, and later, when they are out to eat, she orders room service from their palatial accommodations, delivered
in a silver tureen; and is later scolded at the price (and the audacity)
though they know nothing of the luxurious bath she took in their tub,
or how she lounged in the thick terry cloth robe.

At the restaurant, the next night, before he leaves,
we fight;
my father and I;
our hearts and tongues loosened by the succession of wine,
that my stepmother orders,
in the hope of dulling our connection.

We scream about my mother, my sisters,
about everything that’s been lost, needing someone
to blame, to hold accountable for all the pain.

I leave our velour booth
and stumble into the dark lobby, sobbing,
at the disarray of hearts that I cannot put back together.

I am 20 now.

My father follows me in quick strides;
Comes at me in the empty lobby;
Towers above and raises his hand;
To strike…


My Genie



I become twice his size,
no three times,
and a hiss leaps from my gut…

“DON’T you touch me!”

Stunned, he retreats
to the dinner party,
tells them,
in me,
he has seen both–
his (dead) mother
and his ex-wife.

Alone again, I crumble to the floor;
it is too much to be so strong
too hard to hold so much pain inside.

But he will never touch me again
and of this, I am sure.


Companion pieces:

Resenting Motherhood


That’s My Daddy!


Lifelong educator, writer, retreat & journey leader, yoga & yogadance instructor.

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