Analysis Of The Poem Grief Calls Us To The Things Of This World By Sherman Alexie
Born on a Spokane Indian Reservation, near Spokane Washington, Sherman Alexie is a Native American writer that has gained an international audience. Alexie has received numerous awards and honors for his works, including a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, a PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, an American Book Award, and the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas. Alexie was a minority at an all-white high school; however, he was an honor student as well as class president. His outstanding academic performance during his time in high school earned him a scholarship to Spokane’s Gonzaga University.
Alexie studied at Gonzaga University for two years. He then followed in the footsteps of his father and became a heavy drinker until the publication of his first book. Because his father abused alcohol, he was away for much of Alexie’s childhood. This left his mother to work several jobs in order to support her children. Many of Alexie’s works are based on events and people in life and he uses elements such as irony and dark humor to implement feelings, such as sadness into his writing.
“Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World,” a poem written by Sherman Alexie, is a great example of Alexie’s use of irony and dark humor. The poem is voiced by Alexie himself, and it portrays how he feels a year after the death of his father. The poem opens with Alexie in the restroom of a “five-star hotel” and there is a “blue telephone” inside (1/2). Alexie humors the reader by naming off a list of people that he could potentially call, including “a plumber, / proctologist, urologist, or priest” (3/4). He finally comes to the conclusion that he will call his father because his father is “astounded by bathroom telephones” (7).
When trying to make the phone call to his father, his mother answers and “gasps” when Alexie asks to speak to his father (9). This is when Alexie has the sudden realization that his father “has been dead for nearly a year” (11). The sudden lapse in Alexie’s memory shows that he is still in denial and grieving over his father’s death (shermanalexiepoetry.weebly.com). Moving through the poem, the reader finds that Alexie’s mother also had a lapse in memory that day. Earlier in the day, she had made her deceased husband “a cup of instant coffee” and “left it on the table” (14/15). She did not realize what she had done until several hours later when the coffee was still sitting there. This proves that the mother is also still going through the grieving process.
These sudden moments of forgetfulness seen in both Alexie and his mother can tie back into his personal life. Alexie’s father was absent for most of his life because he was an alcoholic. Therefore, it is no surprise that Alexie does not remember that his father had died because he was never present in his life in the first place. It is also no surprise that his mother was not able to remember the death because she was working several jobs in order to support her children.
The poem makes a sudden shift from grief and denial, to anger. Alexie uses angels as a metaphor for the disease/cause of the loved ones passing (shermanalexiepoetry.weebly.com). Ironically, Alexie is angry at these angels. This is because they are standing by waiting for the family members to temporarily forget about the passing of their loved one so that they get the chance to forcefully remind them. The angels are seen “slap[ping] [Alexie’s] soul with their cold wings” and they “burden and unbalance [them],” which is also ironic because angels do not typically use force. (22/23). The angels frequently make Alexie’s life difficult because they are a constant reminder of his father’s death and they are always there watching over his family.
“Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World” by Sherman Alexie is a poem about the death of Alexie and how it was temporarily forgotten. This poem is an excellent example of Alexie’s style because it uses a lot of irony and even dark humor. Alexie also used people and events from his personal life to help influence his writing. His father’s absence during his childhood is what sparked the inspiration for this piece.
- Alexie, Sherman. “Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World.” Poetry Foundation. 2007.
- Kuiper, Kathleen. “Sherman Alexie.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 Oct 2018.
- “Sherman Alexie.” Poetry Foundation.
- “Who Is Sherman Alexie? Everything You Need to Know.” The Famous People.