Recent Work By Rachel McKibbens

Unlike the other Mexican families on my grandma’s block, ours didn’t bother trying to keep family drama under wraps. What was the point? Of my father’s four brothers, three were lifelong convicts and gang members. When a neighbor’s television was stolen, they’d come knocking on grandma’s door. When a row of plants was torn out of the DeLeon’s garden, one of my uncles was to blame. Missing car radio? Vinnie. Misplaced checkbook? Phillip. Get your bank robbed? That would be Gilbert. Cop cars would just park in front of my grandparents’ house and wait. And every time one of her sons got busted (even if it was her who called the police) grandma would holler and whine from the kitchen window about her poor baby as he ducked into the back of the squad car.

Much like in prison, no one at my grandparents’ house ever used each others’ actual birth names.  Grandma was “Guera” (Spanish slang  for “pale.”) Grandpa was, simply, Asshole. The origins of a nickname were uncomfortably brutal, as nothing about you or who you were related to or what happened to you when you were five or what disease you had was off limits. Some names of friends and family members included: Chemo Joe, Donkey Tits, Horse Lips, Ham Nose, Becky The Flass (“Flat” + “Ass”) Potato Face, Mountain Neck, Stop Sign Ears, N*gger Mike, Whore-a (rhymes with “Dora”) and Jell-O Mouse. There wasn’t a need to break down the reasoning behind my nickname, of course, because it essentially spoke for itself: Oblong Doggy Head.

Every time my dad and his girlfriend talked about my mom in front of me and my brother, they used the nickname “Doodoo.” For years I had no clue who this Doodoo person was. I imagined her some wild lady dressed in a pile of battered animal hides, wrists bound by turquoise jewelry. So of course, I was extremely disappointed when I learned that The Legendary Doodoo was just my stupid mom. The day of revelations came the Friday afternoon of my weekend visit (the visitation order only allowed her to have one child at a time) when she pulled up in her galvanized El Camino―or, “The Devil-ElCo” as my dad would call it―pressing the gas pedal  with her obnoxious wooden high heel. As I was getting my clothes together, I overheard my dad tell his girlfriend, Better go hide in the bedroom, Doodoo’s here. Bingo.

My mom hated that my dad had a girlfriend, even though she wanted nothing to do with him. It didn’t matter to her that he had won full custody of us in The Bitterest (And Most Bizarre) Custody battle of 1979. It didn’t matter to her that she was never invited to school recitals or birthday parties or parent/teacher conferences.  It didn’t matter to her that we never saw her on actual holidays, never gave her Mother’s Day cards, never called her on the phone…What mattered to her was that she might lose her title – we might call some other woman “mom,” the true kiss of death for anyone with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

The first part of visitation was always the same: a nerve wracking twenty-five minute cross-examination as we blazed down the 405 freeway: Does that bitch sleep over? What does she wear around the house? Was that her peeking out of the window? Where does she work? What do you call her? Have you seen her naked? You know she’s a whore, right? Does she kiss your dad in front of you? Why does she wear so much eyeshadow? Do you think she’s prettier than me? Doesn’t she have her own children? What does she make you for dinner?

I don’t know why she bothered asking me these things. It was a well-known fact my mother never wanted me. When you were born, I was so angry. The doctor had promised me you’d be a boy. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted a son. Shit, she placed me in a foster home when I was four, but kept my little brother for nine whole months before she decided to toss him in, too. Which is why, when she picked me up one fateful weekend, and made me hide beneath a pile of dirty laundry in the backseat while she went on a date (dinner! A movie! The whole goddamn nine!) I couldn’t help but ready my mouth with the worst truth vomit I could muster. Hours later, when she opened the car door to see if I was still breathing, I popped up and blurted, Dad and my new mom call you Doodoo! And grandma told me about the baby buried in the backyard. And even Peter calls you Doodoo! (The part about my brother Peter was a lie, but we all knew how much she loved him more than me, so I thought I’d sprinkle a few extra grains of salt in there, free o’ charge.)

My mother didn’t say a word, which made her all the more frightening. She stared out into the darkness for ten years, her mouth a straight red line. Then she started the car and peeled out of the driveway, blasting her crazy Persian belly dance music to heighten my fear and confusion. I covered myself with the laundry and curled into a ball of holy-shit-goddamn-what-in-fuck’s-ass-have-I-done?

When I felt the car slow down to a roll, I looked up and saw that she’d flicked the headlights off and was easing the ElCo down the driveway of my apartment complex—I knew whatever was gonna happen, I was in deep shit by my dad when I came home. When the engine turned off, all I could think to do was duck. When I heard her get out, I sat up to see what she was doing. I wished I hadn’t. I remember this entire sequence without color or sound: She took the crowbar from the bed of the ElCo and smashed my dad’s bedroom window. Then I watched  her smear mud all over our front door and throw our welcome mat onto the neighbor’s roof. Just like that, I pissed all over the dirty laundry.

When we got to her apartment, she was unusually calm, which meant she was either plotting, or satisfied. Whatever it was, I knew I was screwed. If I made it out of this one alive, it meant a) my dad was hit by a bus or, b) God intended crueler things for me later in life. I waited for her to say something. I was hungry, but I knew better than to ask for dinner. After a few minutes of silence, she asked if I wanted some chocolate milk (one of the three things she knew how to “cook.”)  I nodded and hung around to watch her make it, half expecting her to poison me. She kicked off her Candies and grabbed two glasses from the sink, then motioned for me to stand beside her.

It was the closest thing to a hug she would ever give me. And as we stood in the kitchen together, for the first time in my eight long years of life, I actually felt like her daughter. As she held the bottle of syrup over the milk, she said, You know how to make the best chocolate milk? Squeeze the syrup into the milk for exactly seven seconds. It’s perfect, every time. For the rest of that weekend, she didn’t once make fun of my buck teeth or point out the inherited trail of fuzz down my back to her  roommate. 

When I came home, the incident was never brought up. No one in the family mentioned the word “Doodoo” written in mud on our front door, even though it stayed there for weeks. Because my life is my life, our neighbor, Welfare Tommy, blabbed about it and “Doodoo” became my nickname once school started. By the end of the semester, the rumor had turned into a tale of me shitting my pants in class. I did nothing to correct the story. I figured I had earned it.   

It’s my responsibility to provide the American people
with a candid assessment on the way forward …
Absolutely, we’re winning…

-George W. Bush

The welfare of the people in particular has always
been the alibi of tyrants.

-Albert Camus

The Muslim woman in the schoolyard tells me
to cover my baby’s head. It’s too windy, or
It’s snowing, or, There’s a man hiding
in the bushes with a gun

On the bus, the Russian ladies give up
their seats for my blue-eyed booby-babe
who spits curdled milk onto their
snapping alligator shoes.

She smiles for the Puerto Rican mamis
eager to point out the birthmark on her face,
the bald patch on her head, the scratch
across her nose. They say God bless her
so sincerely, I almost want to swallow
them like swords.

The witch in Prospect Heights warns me
to teach my baby how to sleep with her
mouth closed
, to stifle the ghouls who
want to climb down her throat
and stitch their teeth into her blood.

As she sleeps beneath a crucifix, clutching
a rabbit’s foot, the eyes of a deer tucked
behind each ear, rock salt around the cradle,
a horseshoe hung on the doorknob,
I sit in silence as the dead
march through my living room,
stumbling over the furniture,

climbing into the cupboards,
tucking into closets and under the beds,
wanting desperately to escape, to outwit
their unavoidable ends,
eight thousand arms searching
for one good mother in the dark.

*My son’s birthday.  Also, when the New York Times reported the death count of U.S. soldiers in Iraq reached four thousand.

What’s the meanest thing you have ever done?

Christ. I haven’t done it yet. But since I daydream about it so often, I guess I can just put it out there: I intend to find my paternal grandmother’s ashes and piss on them. Twice. I told my dad about this. He thinks it’s pretty ambitious.

The nicest?

Married someone I only half-liked.

Have you ever shoplifted?

Yes. It used to be what me and my girlfriends did after school. We planned the stores we were going to hit, the way regular people decide where they’re going to eat. “No, I’m not in the mood to go to Marshall’s. Let’s go to Payless instead.” Terrible. We were on the honor roll, too. Which is funny, the way Catholic school kids on heroin is funny.

The one time I got caught was at Stater Bros.’ grocery store. I stole a box of Jell-O Pudding Pops. I went to juvie for it. So embarrassing (although not half as bad as my uncle who got busted for stealing a Thigh Master.)

How do you find time to write with five children?

I wait until everyone is asleep. Then I try to pound out as many poems as possible, which is why I honestly can’t remember writing some of my own poems. I’ll come across one on the computer and assume my boo wrote it.

It’s made clear through your poems that you are obsessed with three main topics: Bestiality, Mermaid Abuse, and Parental Hate. Anything else you want to include?

No, that pretty much covers it. Although, I should put out there, I do not hate my dad. He’s come a long way. We both have. My mother, however, can go ahead and get chomped down by a dinosaur for all I care. I’ll always have issues with mermaids because I am filled with ocean envy (I am afraid of it, therefore love it.) Bestiality has always amused me. I’ll just leave it at that.

Well, now I have to ask – If you had to have sex with any animal, what would it be?

Heh, “had.” Okay. So, if I had to have sex with an animal, it would be a giant dog. Like a Great Dane or Mastiff. Or one of those Scottish dogs … what is that breed? With a mustache? And they look good in Sherlock Holmes hats? The breed escapes me. I’ll come back to that later.