Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Four days after Christmas
I cancelled a breakfast.
“Seven or eight hours,” I said.
My sister Amy cancelled
her ten a.m. hair appointment.

We held a vigil with Mardi,
our friend from across the street.
The energy between us
lessened my fear
that the devil,
trying to outpace the angels
in the moment of death,
would break through the back door.


Mardi and I were sitting
in the living room
as the smell of buttery toast
wafted through the house.
Amy was making us lunch.

She brought three sandwiches on a plate,
the bread a crispy brown,
not a burnt corner in sight.

As I picked up a half,
the cheese pulled apart
in slow motion,
a mix of three kinds
I didn’t get the name of,
the color a mystical Mayan sunrise.

I hadn’t eaten all day;
the tea had gone cold.
With the first bite,
my stomach turned on
like a heater.

Six feet away, against the wall,
mother lay in her hospice bed.
Her lunch: morphine
and a swab of water on her lips.
I couldn’t help but think of
Jesus’s final moments,
the Roman soldiers and the gall.


Her breath was what the nurses called
the death rattle,
the last of fluid in her lungs.
Mardi knew the sound
of this strange form of drowning;
leukemia had taken a daughter at 15.

I was Googling the afterlife
when the nurse called it,
at twenty to three.


The day after my mother’s funeral,
Mardi couldn’t get out of bed.
Her next-door neighbor brought her
a grilled cheese.

The Funeral Of Grilled Cheese Sandwiches is the titular poem in Sally O’Dowd’s collection Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Other Tales of Love and Loss. It was originally published by Literati Magazine. With much love and affection to my sister Amy, the artist.

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