Joy Harjo’s “The Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window,”with its reference point in the contemporary urban environment, mourns the sense of desolation, marginalization, and individual loneliness that arises when women are displaced from their spiritual home. At the same time, the poem encourages readers to acknowledge the lives of those individuals living in poverty in a racist culture who somehow survive despite incredible odds. The poem begins with a description of a woman’s hands pressed to the concrete window moulding of the tenement high-rise where she lives in Chicago with her three children, Carlos, the baby; Margaret; and Jimmy, the oldest. Birds fly overhead like a halo or a “storm of glass waiting to crush her.” With this startling introduction, the poem compels the reader to hear the story that has brought this woman to a devastating point in her life.
The second stanza, merely one short line, attempts to explain her reason for wanting to jump—“She thinks she will be set free”—and thus deftly leads the reader to the woman’s memories about family and home recollected in the third stanza. She thinks of herself first as a mother, but also as a child, “her mother’s daughter and her father’s son.” She has been a wife, with two marriages in the past, and, significantly, has an inextricable and strong connection to all the women in the building who watch her at this crucial juncture in her life. Moving from a...
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