She Had Some Horses by Jay Harjo

SheHadSomeHorsesPbkbig

  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (December 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039333421X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393334210
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Reviewed by Stephen Page 
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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’:
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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.
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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.
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stephen-in-the-countryStephen Page is from Detroit, Michigan.  There he worked in factories, gasoline stations, and steel-cutting shops.  He always longed for a vocation associated with nature.  He now lives in Argentina, teaches literature, ranches, and spends time with his family. http://stephenmpage.wordpress.com/

2 responses to “She Had Some Horses by Jay Harjo

  1. Haro’s poem, The Woman Hanging…has the impact of specificity, however encompasses the universality of women. Thank you for your attention to this fine poem. maria keane

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