Chicken Ghazal

In that other world, it’s the first thing that signals dawn before it’s even dawn:
shrill piercing cries of Tik-tilaooook! in the dark, a chorus of caged roosters.

I always wondered why the middleman who calls the bets at cockfights is called the Kristo
and how sharp the flashing spurs, how vivid the blood-jet feathers of some roosters.

Our first grade teacher lectured us on piety, simplicity, and appetite— admonishing:
You’re not going to be those kinds of kids who demand, every day, a dish of chicken.

My father’s favorite dish was a clear broth with ginger and malunggay or sili leaves;
bobbing in the soup, perfectly boiled, salted, and peppered pieces of chicken.

My husband and one of my daughters were born in the Year of the Dragon; one daughter was born
in the Year of the Snake, another in the Year of the Pig. I am an Ox. My eldest is the Rooster.

Once I went to a sleepy town far south, where writers sat along the seawall all summer. A witch-
island was visible in the distance. Hot off sidewalk grills, we ate skewered parts of chicken.

The sauces drip from your fingers, down your palms. There is a different kind of joy in eating with
your hands. Give me a little salt with my rice, or shrimp sauce. Sometimes it’s better than chicken.

In the far north, past my own hometown, the locals have a dish called pinikpikan. I can’t tell you
more than that it involves the slow, induced coagulation of blood beneath the skin. And a chicken.

One day I wanted to tell you my biggest secret. You stood in the hallway, smiling. There was
no one else around: the perfect opportunity. But my nerves were snarled copper— I was too chicken.

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