Crosscultural theories of conception, gestation, and the newborn


The Woman Hanging From the Thirteenth Floor Window



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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 moulding 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.
She thinks she will be set free. ‘
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.
When she was young she ate wild rice on scraped down plates in warm wood rooms. It was in the farther north and she was the baby there. They rocked her.
She sees Lake Michigan lapping at the shores of herself. It is a dizzy hole of water and the rich live in tall glass houses at the edge of it. In some places Lake Michigan speaks softly; here, it just sputters and butts itself against the asphalt. She sees other buildings just like hers. She sees other women hanging from many-floored windows counting their lives in the palms of their hands and in the palms of their children’s hands.
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 Levis 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 form 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. -
She thinks of Carlos, of Margaret, of Jimmy. She thinks of her father, and of her mother. She thinks of all the women she has been, of all the men. She thinks of the color of her skin, and of Chicago streets, and of waterfalls and pines. She thinks of moonlight nights, and of cool spring storms. Her mind chatters like neon and north side bars. She thinks of the 4 a.m. lonelinesses that have folded her up like death, discordant, without logical and beautiful conclusion. Her teeth break off at the edges. She would speak. .
The woman hangs from the 13th floor window crying for the lost beauty of her own life. She sees the sun falling west over the grey plane of Chicago. She thinks 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.

From She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo, Thunder’s Mouth Press, New York/Chicago.1983.

REFERENCES CITED

Davis-Floyd, Robbie

1991 Birth as an American Rite of Passage. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Ford, Clellan Stearns

1964 A Comparative Study of Human Reproduction (reprinted from the 1945 edition), New Haven: Human Relations Area Files Press.


Hamilton, Annette

1981 Nature and Nurture: Aboriginal Child-Rearing in North-Central Arnhem Land. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.


Jurow (COCS paper “maternal host”)
Laderman, Carol

1983 Wives and Midwives: Childbirth and Nutrition in Rural Malaysia. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California’ Press.


Lake, Randall A.

1987 The Metaethical Framework of Anti-Abortion Rhetoric. Signs 11:3:478-499.


McLaren, Angus

1984 Reproductive Rituals: The Perception of Fertility in England from the Sixteenth Century to the Nineteenth Century. London and New York: Methuen.


Morgan, Lynn

1986 Are Babies Persons? A Cross-cultural Perspective on when Life Begins. Unpublished ms, Department of Anthropology, UC Berkeley.


Montague, Ashley

1974 Coming into Being among the Australian Aborigines.


Richards, Audrey

Chisungu
Rubel, Arthur

Philippines
Sargent, Carolyn Fishel

1989 Maternity, Medicine, and Power: Reproductive Decisions in Urban Benin. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Sich, Dorothea

1982 Mutterschaft und Geburt im Kulturwandel. Frankfurt am Main, West Germany: Verlag Peter Lang. (on Korea)


Trevathan, Wenda

1987 Human Birth: An Evolutionary Perspective. New York: Aldine de Gruyter. 263 pp.



PPP babies and persons /



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