The Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window

Harjo, Joy

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Donley, Carol
  • Date of entry: May-12-2006
  • Last revised: Dec-01-2006


The poem presents a Native-American woman hanging by her fingers from a window ledge 13 floors above the street. As she tries to decide whether or not she'll let go, she thinks of all the reasons that have led her to consider suicide: she feels broken in "several pieces between the two husbands she has had"; here in a crowded Chicago tenement, she is out of her natural native place in the north; she is poor; she suffers from racial discrimination; she hears voices; she cries "for lost beauty." She considers her three young children and remembers her own childhood. The poem ends with the either/or choice still not made--either she will fall to her death or she will climb back in the window and reclaim her life.


One of the impressive qualities of this poem is its continuous present tense--the woman is hanging and feeling and thinking, while she is trying to decide whether or not she will let go. And the reader hangs with her. All the thoughts and sensations going through her mind seem to dilate time: we wonder how she can keep hanging on while she is remembering and feeling all kinds of experiences. The thirteenth floor of the poem's title suggests not only bad luck but a kind of "non-existence," since many buildings go from the 12th to the 14th floors (at least on elevators and apartment numbers). Like the woman, the reader is left dangling.

Primary Source

She Had Some Horses


Thunder's Mouth Press

Place Published

New York



Page Count