Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World poem by Sherman Alexie Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


The poem “Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World” was written by Sherman Alexie. The poem was published in Alexie’s poetry collection named “Face” in 2009. The poem’s title is taken from one of the poems of Richard Wilbur. Yet, Wilbur didn’t use the term “Grief”. But Alexie has used this term to indicate the main theme of the poem.

About the Poet:

Sherman Alexie is a native American poet, short story writer and novelist. Some of his notable works are The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Smoke Signals, Reservation BluesThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, War Dances. He had received the following awards for his literary works like American Book Award (1996), National Book Award (2007). Most of his works talk about the sufferings of native American people due to the domination of white people.


The poem “ Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World” is written in free verse. The poem consists of an epigraph and it is followed by 13 couplets. The epigraph alludes to one of the poems of Richard Wilbur, an American poet.


The poet has not followed any strict metrical pattern. But in most of the lines he has used iambic metres.

Speaker of the poem:

While analysing the historical background of the poet , we cannot get any specific information regarding the relationship between him and his father. So, the reader can assume that the poem is written from an objective point of view. The speaker of the poem is depicting the relationship between him and his father. The writing is very straightforward. It seems like the speaker is talking to himself or to the readers directly 


The beginning lines of the couplet starts with a humour tone. At some point the mood has shifted from humour to sadness. During the last few couplets, the mood has changed from sadness to anger.

Poem Analysis:


The morning air is all awash with angels . . .

                                            – Richard Wilbur

The epigraph of the poem “Grief calls us to the things of the world” is taken from the poem “Love calls us to the things of the world” by Richard Wilbur.

In Richard Wilbur poem, this line is used to describe where the speaker of the poem wakes from the sleep. He first looks at the ladies doing their laundry. He compares these ladies to the angels. 

But in the poem “Grief calls us to the things of the world”. This line is used in epigraph to indicate how the speaker of the poem is complaining about his forgetfulness. The speaker’s father passed away but the speaker couldn’t remember his death. So, he curses the angels who are responsible for the forgetfulness.

Lines 1-4:

The eyes open to a blue telephone

In the bathroom of this five-star hotel.

I wonder whom I should call? A plumber, 

Proctologist, urologist, or priest?

The speaker of the poem is staying in a five star hotel. He is sitting in the bathroom and looking at the blue telephone that is present there. He wants to speak with someone. But he is not sure whom to call. So, the options start to run in his mind like a plumber,proctologist, urologist and priest. Still now, the readers are not revealed about his problem. Yet, the terms like proctologist and urologist are related to anus, rectum and urinary related specialists. So, one can guess that the speaker has a constipation problem. But, why would the speaker then think about a plumber or priest. It is just to create humour. 

Lines 5-9:

Who is most among us and most deserves

The first call? I choose my father because

He's astounded by bathroom telephones.

I dial home. My mother answers. "Hey, Ma, 

I say, "Can I talk to Poppa?" She gasps,

The speaker’s mind suddenly asked a question “Who is most among us and most deserves- The first call”. His mind thinks of his father. So, he decides to call his father to seek help from him. He dialled his home. His mother took the phone. The readers can guess that the speaker has directly informed his mother that he wants to speak to his father. But the mother starts gasping. But, why? we will get the answer to this in the following lines.

Lines 10-13: 

And then I remember that my father 

Has been dead for nearly a year. "Shit, Mom," 

I say. "I forgot he’s dead. I’m sorry—

How did I forget?" "It’s okay," she says.

Suddenly the speaker remembers that his father has been dead for nearly a year. He curses himself for forgetting that his father is dead. He apologises to his mother. He curses himself again and again. But, the mother replies in a calm tone “,It’s okay”.

Lines 14-18:

"I made him a cup of instant coffee 

This morning and left it on the table—

Like I have for, what, twenty-seven years—

And I didn't realize my mistake 

Until this afternoon.".........

The speaker couldn’t remember that his dad had passed away. Here, the mood of the poem shifts from humour to sadness. It is very common for people to commit these kinds of mistakes in life. The speaker followed a routine of making coffee for his dad through all these years. How come suddenly a person can change that habit. It will take some time to accept the reality. Through these lines, the readers get to know that the speaker makes a cup of coffee for his father and leaves them on the table and leaves. Only by afternoon he realises that he has made coffee for his father who is already dead. His mind couldn’t get out of his daily habit.

Lines 18-22:

…………My mother laughs

At the angels who wait for us to pause

During the most ordinary of days

And sing our praise to forgetfulness

Before they slap our souls with their cold wings.

The mother of the speaker laughs at him. It might be because she feels that her son couldn’t stop remembering his father. But, the speakers take that laugh in a different way. The speaker thinks that his mother is laughing at the angels who were responsible for this forgetfulness. The speaker’s pain makes him think that the angels are playing tricks on him. They sing and praise the forgetfulness and slaps hard with their cold wings.

Lines 23-26:

Those angels burden and unbalance us.

Those fuc king angels ride us piggyback.

Those angels, forever falling, snare us

And haul us, prey and praying, into dust.

In the last two couplets, the speaker’s tone changes from pain to anger. Here, he thinks that the angels are the ones who make people forget things. The speaker feels that the angels are riding with him. Here, the term “angel” refers to “one’s mind”. In most cases, we try to do something but our mind clears the thoughts and makes us forget. Later, the same mind makes us suffer at the consequences of the things that we forgot.