In Sarah Lilius’sGirl, we follow the narrator’s transformation from ordinary girl, to 25-year-old girl, to party girl, to feminist woman, back to frightened girl, to lonely wife, and each instillation and iteration of identity before and thereafter through a maze of encounters, which are equal parts unfortunate and inevitable for female identifying people. Whether it is a strange man in a tree, a republican, or cat-callers. Whether she is at the circus or a school dance, or meeting God, our “girl” runs a gauntlet of disrespect and sexual violence. In “A 25 Year Old Girl Meets a Cat-Calling Man,” Lilius writes: “every day, he’s there/ calling her BABY, CHICK,/ talking about her TITS,/ her PUSSY.” Throughout the collection our narrator endures a confusing and strange seemingly pre-set landscape of becoming. Our girl, being discovered by a lonely wife is “caught in a snare of non-existence.” Lilius’s true talent comes in her ability to display the disparity between how bold and unapologetic her subject matter is and the invisibility of her narrator to the outside world. By crafting such juxtaposition, Girl instructs us in experiencing a loud-mouthed disempowerment.
At times, like ethereal pieces of a fairytale, this record of misogyny is the voiced colloquial politicization of womanhood. As reader, I can’t help but wait for the lesson that never comes, which is, perhaps, the lesson in and of itself: there is nothing else to learn from this deeply engrained cycle of violence. The violence is to be expected. It is neither shocking nor met with resistance. Instead, these poems are a record, a documentation of what we are taught. There is only the sadness of the speaker in the poem “A Feminist Woman Meets a Naïve Man” who somehow still believes that she, “can’t call him misogynist,/ he loves his wife, daughters, mother./ He just thinks they can’t be slashed.” What does it mean to exist in a world that does not believe women are capable of being harmed? When rape culture is so ingrained and violence so normalized that even in death we are not believed to worthy of being believed?
In the final poem in the collection, “A Young Girl Meets Her Older Self,” Lilius writes the following closure: “I smirk and run off, ready to enjoy/ what time I have left.” These are the final lines of the collection and imply firstly, that there isn’t much time left, and secondly, that perhaps the time that has elapsed has been misspent or wasted, or at the very least, not that enjoyable. I can’t help but read this last poem as a warning: “My older self hunches like her shoulders are tired/ of being shoulders. Aren’t bones supposed to be strong?” This final mediation on strength (mental and physical) echoes the naivety of a child coupled with the clarity of an adult—two selves pushing against each other, the foundation stone of being held up. We are asked to question what we’ve known to be intrinsic and inherent. How do we shape and mold our sisters? What is our responsibility?