A Dozen Cuban Tortas

by James Miller Robinson

I’m going to walk twelve blocks
to buy twelve Cuban tortas
to bring back to the twelve
people in the big white house.

I’ll wander the blocks
of the sea-side town
beneath the magnolias,
jacarandas and tilted palms

until I find just the right
concrete house or maybe a shack
of weathered boards
with a plastic table
on the sidewalk before
the dark opening of its door.

It will have a hand-written sign
proclaiming all the kinds of Cuban tortas
they can make — leg or pork,
chicken breast, breaded steak,
ham, and, of course, with plenty
of onion and chiles habaneros.

One of breaded beefsteak with avocado
for abuelita, one with no mayonnaise
for Lupita.  Just one to cut in half
for the two remaining children.
We won’t need one at all
for those who have already gone.

On every block of the little town,
where behind the lazy squeak
of bus brakes and the slow rumble
of occasional cars, the droning respiration
of the Gulf surges onto the beach
then subsides as the days pass
and the earth churns, there are
plastic chairs huddled around small tables
where women in aprons
serve picadas, gorditas, huaraches,
and shrimp coctel in salsa de tomate.

The tortas will make
a considerable bundle in a plastic bag
to carry back beneath the summer sun
up the hillside across the coastal highway
but I want to take a Cuban torta
for each remaining member of the family
— or at least a half — whether they
have had breakfast yet or not.
I’ll divide them up and pass them out
at the table in the big tile kitchen,
then collect an even bigger plastic bag
full of leftovers and scraps
so there’ll be plenty left when we go away.

I’m going to buy twelve Cuban tortas
from a grandmother and a mother
at a little concrete house in Boca del Rio.