Sheila Black
At the Embajada at 107th and Amsterdam

When we felt weak we ate monfongo,
the high-piled sandcastle plates of plantain
mashed with pork cracklings. On Sunday
mornings the plantanos maduros like coins
of Spanish gold—that starched sweetness.
And we drank café con leche anytime at all,
devouring the small pale slices of fried bread
that came on the side. In winter always,
ropa vieja—old clothes—the shredded
meat mixed with the gravy of peppers, onions,
tomatoes, sandwiches Cubanos, flat and
and steaming, marked with the iron bars
of the grille. We ate hung-over and lovesick.
We ate when they were still hosing the blood-
from-the-night-before from the sidewalks. We
ate beside the old married couples, the suicidal
teens, the gang-bangers, and drunks. We ate
to excess; we ate without noticing. We ate as we were
splitting up—the table partitioned with our
terrible endings, a sudden arcana, the stretched silences.
We ate as we had once eaten when it was all new—
in thrall to the city—the burst hydrants, the
dazzled sluicing of a world. We ate as the girl
behind the counter wept unceasing—the
rent had gone up; they could no longer afford the
lease. Flan with burnt caramel spilling
around the saucer at the bottom, black beans
and yellow rice washed down with the beer
from the back of the menu, ice-cold bottles of
El Presidente—the dictator with his white moustaches,
the benevolent but menacing glimmer in his eye.
We ate ourselves into history, plate after plate,
like the great paintings in the museums—
grease gilded with achiote, the bone starch of
yucca, the roots and the organs dismembered.
We ate carelessly; we ate with relish; as our lives
turned and burned, we ordered, we ate.