Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World

One of my favorite poems ever is Richard Wilbur's "Love Calls us to the Things of This World." So I was intrigued with the title of Sherman Alexie's poem "Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World," thinking maybe it was a parody. But no, it's a good poem in its own right:

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?

Who is blessed 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,
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.
"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." 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.

Those angels burden and unbalance us.
Those fucking angels ride us piggyback.

Those angels, forever falling, snare us
And haul us, prey and praying, into dust.

One time when my family stayed in a Holiday Inn in Little Rock, Arkansas for a family wedding, we got rooms that had tvs and telephones in the bathroom. We all thought it was the funniest thing ever, and kept calling each other from the bathroom to announce that we were calling from there. So I feel an odd urge to laugh and cry at the same time about calling your father because you know it will amuse him and forgetting that he's not around to be amused anymore.

And I'm thinking of Lemming's Sam, who isn't around anymore. It's so hard to remember that someone who has been a part of your life isn't going to be there for one particular thing after another. The days are a succession of slaps with those cold wings. Even years later, you expect to hear that voice, see hair that color out of the corner of your eye. Have you ever felt this way?


FreshHell said...

Yes, I keep expecting my grandfather to show up again. He's been dead since 1985 but I still miss him.

Lass said...

Sherman Alexie. Sigh. I do love this poem.

My own dad pops in occasionally and there have been many times over the past year when I started to pick up the phone to call my little brother, only to remember he's not there any more - it's always both a shock and a kind of relief. Shock that he's gone and relief that in spite of his death, he's still somehow present.

I don't think you ever stop missing someone who is gone, and while I have somewhat resigned myself to this fact, it sucks.

edj3 said...

Yes and no. I’ve lost all my grandparents; I was closer to two of them but not geographically close and they weren’t really phone people. I lost my bio father in 2000 but didn’t learn about that until 2004, so no loss there.

However my mother has leukemia. She was diagnosed in 2002 and as she says, she could very well die from something else first. Still, I know now--in a way I didn’t before the day she told me that news--that I will lose my mother. And even though I get exasperated by her, there are days when I really just want my mommy

Unknown said...

My grandfather alway enjoyed a good joke, especially if it was his. He would have laughed at the idea of a phone in the bathroom. He died almost 30 years ago, but I it still seems like I could go sit on the back porch with him and laugh. Thanks for sharing this poem and making me think of him again.

Betty (Beth) said...

Thank you for this one. I'm missing a couple of people today now.

Jenny said...

That brought tears to my eyes. You always post such good poetry!

Joe said...

That reminded me of Marie Howe's "What the Living Do"


A poem I think I carried in my wallet for years, and somehow I can no longer remember if it were for someone, or if the someone changed over time, or just to remind me to think about them all...

Jeanne said...

Marie Howe's "What the Living Do" is a really good poem too.

Ana S. said...

You always share the best poems! Thank you.