She Had Some Horses
by Jay Harjo
Thunder’s Mouth Press
Reviewed by Stephen Page
Friday afternoon. I take a taxi to the Buenos Aires Airpark. On my flight to Uruguay I read She Had Some Horses, by Jay Harjo. The poems seem somehow familiar, something . . . I am trying to put my finger on it . . . yes . . . they remind me of poems I have read in workshops at university—there is nothing technically wrong with them, but there is nothing outstanding about them either. They evoke some imagery, but little emotion. My friend meets me at the airport and drives me to his home. That evening, after eating grilled lamb on a patio in back of his house, I gaze over what he calls a “backyard”, which is a hundred acres of rolling land surrounded by barbwire fence with a small herd of horses that graze on the grass. Once in a while one of the horses will take off running, and two or three will follow its lead, running, jumping in the air, kicking their hooves about, neighing like they are laughing, manes and tails flowing. Running about, it seems, just to run about—to have fun—to be happy to be alive. I note how gracefully horses move. How proud they stand when they stick their heads up from grazing to look about. That night, I read the book again. I begin to notice a subtle tugging from the poems, an evasive yet imperative beckoning. The next morning, I read the book a third time. The poems stun me. Each one dazzles me, has my full attention—like the way I notice a woman is beautiful and interesting in a way I did not on a first meeting with her, but upon a second and third encounter, moves me, enters me, will not leave me. One of the better poems in the book is ‘The Woman Hanging From the Thirteenth Floor Window’:
She is the woman hanging from the 13th floor
window. Her hands are pressed white against the
concrete molding of the tenement building. She
hangs from the 13th floor window in east Chicago.
with a swirl of birds over her head. They could
be a halo, or a storm of glass waiting to crush her . . .
The woman hanging from the 13th floor window
on the east side of Chicago is not alone.
She is a woman of children, of the baby, Carlos,
and of Margaret, and of Jimmy who is the oldest.
She is her mother’s daughter and her father’s son.
She is several pieces between the two husbands
she has had. She is all the women of the apartment
building who stand watching her, watching themselves. . .
She is the woman hanging from the 13th floor window
on the Indian side of town. Her belly is soft from
her children’s births, her worn Levi’s swing down below
her waist, and then her feet, and then her heart.
She is dangling.
The woman hanging from the 13th floor hears voices.
They come to her in the night when the lights have gone
dim. Sometimes they are little cats mewing and scratching
at the door, sometimes they are her grandmother’s voice,
and sometimes they are gigantic men of light whispering
to her to get up, to get up, to get up. That’s when she wants
to have another child to hold onto in the night, to be able to fall back into dreams.
And the woman hanging from the 13th floor window
hears other voices. Some of them scream out from below
for her to jump, they would push her over. Others cry softly
from the sidewalks, pull their children up like flowers and gather
them into their arms. They would help her, like themselves.
But she is the woman hanging from the 13th floor window,
and she knows she is hanging by her own fingers, her
own skin, her own thread of indecision . . .
The woman hangs from the thirteenth floor window crying for
the lost beauty of her own life. She sees the
sun falling west over the gray plane of Chicago.
She think she remembers listening to her own life
break loose, as she falls from the 13th floor
window on the east side of Chicago, or as she
climbs back up to claim herself again.
The image of the woman hanging by her fingertips on the window ledge is vivid. She is depicted metaphorically as EveryIndianWoman, but she could just as easily be EveryWoman, the poem is written that well. Every reader feels empathy with The Women, as do the spectators on the street below. Thusly, EveryOne is up on the ledge with The Woman, right beside her, or as her. The poem begins tragically but ends victoriously. There is hope to escape the fall from the ledge in the sense of self-reclamation. After all, hasn’t everyone been hanging from a ledge at least once in his or her life—at least some sort of a metaphoric ledge?
The rest of the poems are just as vivid as they are emotional.
As Published on Fox Chase Review
(now North of Oxford)
Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a member of the Mvskoke Nation. Her seven books of poetry, which includes such well-known titles as How We Became Human- New and Selected Poems, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, and She Had Some Horses have garnered many awards. These include the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas; and the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. For A Girl Becoming, a young adult/coming of age book, was released in 2009 and is Harjo’s most recent publication.
Read more about Joy Harjo here: http://joyharjo.com/