The Discovery of Archaeopteryx.
My grandfather's hands raised the rooster up for all the boys
to see. I was a Brooklyn boy lost in the Puerto Rico of my grandfather,
carsick from backseat journeys through the mountains that dipped and
rolled like a green serpent undulating through the sea.
I had never seen a rooster. Once I saw a cow in a pen at Beachcomber
Bill's in Coney Island, and climbed the rail to stroke the huge
head between the eyes. My shirttails hung out, and the cow began to chew
the cloth. The cow kept chewing till my father yanked me by the arm.
At last, Puerto Rico stopped dipping and rolling through the sea. Here
was Archaeopteryx, the feathered reptile, the dinosaur bird, the fossil
made flesh, risen screeching from the rock. I was dumbstruck by the
blackness of the tail, the beak and spurs that kept my fingers away.
My grandfather's hands calmed the ticking of the rooster's
heart, the same brown hands that beckoned me with blessings in Spanish
at Christmas. My first word was hat,
and my grandfather's straw fedora was the first hat, the same hat
shading his eyes the day he showed me the first rooster.
As a boy, my father learned about roosters. He saw my grandfather guide
the bird into the pit, the wagers change hands, the gallos de pelea
whirl and slash the eyes till a blinded rooster bled into the sand. My
father ran where no one could see, spat up yesterday's rice and
beans. My grandfather's winnings paid for the rice and beans, the
straw fedora, the baseball glove in a box left behind by the Kings on
the Dia de Reyes.
A Brooklyn boy, I knew nothing of roosters, how the spurs of gamecocks
cut throats for sport, how a hammer strikes a cow between the eyes. I
was a big and hungry boy who only knew the taste of flesh was good.