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 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,
so 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 vertabrae freeze with rage.

A voice rises from deep in my gut:

But that is now;
Then, i 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.

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!”

I ignore his voice
I finish the song
I pray he’ll think I can’t hear him over
the pounding of the keys…

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

Deep breath, and
my fingers continue moving…
I’m 18 for god sakes!
I no longer need to be told to go to bed.

My fingers quicken,
releasing consequence,
pretending he doesn’t exist.
that he doesn’t matter,
that his footsteps aren’t coming down the stairs,
that he is not turning the corner,
that he is not 6 foot 4…

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

With another deep breath, I stand and throw down all my cards:

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


In two strides he is across the room.

I rise to meet him in all 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

He swipes a third time
and turns to leave 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 up the thigh, age 10, 11, 12.

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

My mother meets me there in the dark.
I hold back tears, knowing she’s come to comfort me;
but she doesn’t even look at me, 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.

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

I drive the empty nighttime blocks down Pacific,
toward my boyfriend’s house on Palm;
where everyone is sleeping;
and he is out.

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 I’m icy… 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.”

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 buddy, in fact.

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 not far enough…
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 if we don’t behave,”

I open the doors onto Overbrook Avenue in Philadelphia,
and scream…
and then return to my studies,
finally 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 estranged,
I eagerly anticipate
my father and his soon-to-be fiance’s trip abroad.

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

When they go shopping, without us,
my sister orders room service from their palatial room (while she spends her nights on my floor):
soup 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 afterward.

At the restaurant,
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, wanting someone
to blame.

I leave our velour booth
and stumble into the dark lobby, sobbing,
on this, our last night together.

I don’t know how to get it back
or even what it is that I want back;
I am only 20.

My father follows me in quick strides;
Comes at me in the empty lobby;
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;
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 certain.

Kelly Salasin, 2010

Companion pieces:

Resenting Motherhood


That’s My Daddy!


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

8 thoughts on “Aladdin’s Lamp-a poem on spanking

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