Marrocco
Hey, Seeeeecret!
by Christina Marrocco

I keep my crayon crushed in fist, and I work that name.
Oh, how I work that long last name all summer before
Kindy-garten, where, I’ve heard, writing one’s name is expected.
My “R”s insist on coming out backwards and my “O”s float up into the      paper sky.
I write through the Summer of‘1970, over and over:
M-A-R-R-O-C-C-O and M-A-R-R-O-C-C-O
I write through countless Sox and Cubs games blaring out of the television,
through the ramping up of the troubles in Northern Ireland,
through the debut of Casey Casum’s Top Forty,
through Janis Joplin’s lullabies,
and I don’t care, because I’m four, I’m four, I’m four,
and I’m finally getting it!
By August, I’ve made my peace with Marrocco, and we will certainly      live happily forever,
certainly, we will—

until the second grade— the second grade when Richard Plackard, with      his square box head
and his bristly crew-cut and his big red bully mouth discover
“this mole on TV, this super-nerdy sidekick to a squirrel…”
Morocco Mole!
I know, Morocco, who doesn’t?
He’s right there on the Atom Ant and Secret Squirrel Show, every day      after school,
as square as Richard Plackard’s noggin.
Morocco is bumblingly, sporting his heavy Howard Cosell glasses, a      smoking jacket,
and a fez. The fez tilts to one side, not rakishly but absentmindedly.
Morocco is a mole of few words, except when he whines, as he      apparently must each episode,
“Heeeeeyyyy, Secret.” That’s the very best of Morocco. “Heeeeyyyyyy,      Secret.”
Everyone knows Morocco is a lackey, an aide, a vice president in      charge of nothing.

I am well- aware of the finer aspects of spelling my own name,
but Richard Packard, and most members of my second grade class are      not.
I cannot convince them that I am not intimately connected with      Morocco Mole,
that I am not, indeed, Morocco Mole myself, in the fur, galumphing      through second grade.
And thus, as Morocco, I trudge to school, head down, living in blasting      fear of being found
to need glasses, big, thick, black peepers.
The Atom Ant and Secret Squirrel Show airs for an unmercifully long      time.
I see no escape in sight until we move;
This move, in the fifth grade, is the opportunity to make my break!

I catapult into a new school and into a neighborhood that bears certain      qualities,
certain dire similarities to the island from Lord of the Flies, a book I’ve      recently read,
and everyone is doing their very best to NOT become Piggy.
Within the first weeks, I witness a parade of atrocities from my      school bus seat:
Donald Abrens’ hair bursts into flames, courtesy of Neil Croftus,
a black-haired boy who clenches a Bic lighter he swiped from his older      brother;
Toni Cassino weeps rhythmically in her seat to taunts, original lyrics      made up just for her.
lyrics insisting that her hair is “hot and greasy.”
I shrink back into my seat and wait.
You know when you are next.

First they call me “Dainty,” a real putdown in this new school
where good grades, or worse, good manners can get you a broken      nose,
a face in the mud,
flaming tresses.
Then they inform me I have a big nose, must be because I’m Eyetalian.
I can’t argue: my nose is kind of big.
They tell me every day.
Neil also tells me, with his audience gathered leaning over the backs of      the bus seats to hear more clearly,
that I’ve moved into Rusty Marquardt’s old house, and worse,
into Rusty’s very bedroom, which is pretty damned nervy, if you ask      Neil.
Rusty, I may be interested in knowing, was the coolest kid ever.
He was on the swim team and the football team, and he’d just gotten his      driver’s permit
when he died in a crash right in front of Spavone’s Italian Restaurant.
So I’d better respect Rusty’s room because I really have no right to be      there at all.
None.
I nod, relieved that they still aren’t onto Morocco Mole. Maybe they don’t      watch TV,
too busy after school marauding and tying shoelaces together.
It takes until eighth grade for Neil to make the Morocco Mole      connection,
and when he does, his face explodes in joyous fury and recognition,
as if he’s found his brother’s stash or a lifetime hall pass,
And he keeps it rolling,
keeps it wound around my too-shy head, while I, mealy mouthed, simply      stare
blankly out the grimy bus window days on end.
He who greets me in the hallowed halls of Greenbrook Junior High,
greets me with obligatory salutation: “Hey Seeeecret…”
No further conversation, just a sample of abiding cleverness,
an opening to nowhere.

Eighth grade ends, and a strange summer spins behind it,
a summer that breasts my chest and talls my legs,
a summer that grows my hair and whittles my waist,
until some adult says I look pre-Raphaelite;
It sounds like a dinosaur epoch to me, and I’ve no clue who      Dante Rossetti is.
I do know I’m Morocco Mole.

And, sure enough, that mole shuffles right into High School with me, on      his wide moley feet,
and though the bullies have been channeled into the bad kids’ school      down the road,
with its wire fencing and “progressive curriculum,”
my moniker is indelible.
My first boyfriend, Jeff Cefalu, composes passionate love letters written      in green marker
with a great many misspellings, and unbeknownst to me, wide      dissemination.
Between his writing and the careful lacing of his tall moccasin boots,
he finds ample opportunity to hiss out, “Heeeeyyyyyy, Seeeecret,”
as do subsequent boyfriends and friends and acquaintances and      strangers.
People who like me like to do this, but I do not like it. No, I hate it.

I manage to lose the name for a while, the silver lining of bad marriages,
a silver lining of the best part of three decades,
but at forty-two I return to Marrocco.
The mole doesn’t re-emerge much; my friends have given up cartoons.
Hannah Barbara has loosened its death grip on the cultural mind.
Colleagues now murmur that my name is “exotic” or “interesting” or “Huh?”
All clear.

But now, now you see, I’ve got a situation with Marrocco.
I’ve married a lovely man named Guy Moore,
and never mind that his name sounds like Guy Noir,
I’d never tease him about that.
Never mind!
My situation is this: I will not leave Marrocco behind. It is me.
I would like to add Moore; to include my husband in my identity,
and, thus, we arrive at the slightly hellish hyphen: Marrocco-Moore.
You know, my dears, what that sounds like!
I’m walking right into it!
Happily.
I’m doing it, and I’m considering it a significant subversive act,
pushing back my black, thick glasses and on the hunt
for a fez and a pet squirrel.

PHOTOGRAPH: The author at 13, snapped in her Aunt’s yard during the summer before high school (1980).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem looks with both a child’s and an adult’s eye at the act of being named as a form of ridicule. How does one internalize unwanted nicknames? How does one cast them off or de-fang them? How does one dance with them later in life? The name “Morocco Mole” stuck with me for so much of my childhood that I cannot help but note both its power and its real-ness, and yet, I wonder why I never simply embraced it or, conversely, told people to shut up. We seem to bow our heads at our naming ceremonies as a matter of strange instinct. This poem seeks to begin to explore that phenomenon.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Christina Marrocco is an assistant professor of English at Elgin Community College in Elgin, Illinois. There, she teaches Advanced Fiction and Poetry Writing and various Literature and Composition courses, and has facilitated the Creative Writing Club and acted as the Assistant Director of The Writers Center. Christina holds a BA in English, an MA in Professional Writing and Rhetoric, and a PhD in Rhetoric and Late American Literature with a certificate in Women’s Studies, all from Northern Illinois University. Her poems “Buckle” and “Driving the Bicentennial” appear in the 2015 Laurel Review. She is currently working on a large series of prose poetry and a book of creative fiction. Christina grew up in a working class, Italian-American environment during the 1970s and 80s and became a teen parent and high school dropout. She did not begin her pursuit of academics until her mid-thirties, enrolling at the local community college. Though since that time she has attained much, it is the neighborhood confines and beauties, as well as the difficult experiences of her early life, that inform much of her creative work.