The Long Grass by Lisa Rhoades

Dear Lisa Rhoades,

In The Long Grass, you write about being a mother and daughter, illustrating how it is not easy to be a woman, and impossible to remain a girl. You offer small prayers to a world that seems to creep ever closer towards destruction. You worship all things tiny and treat your words with gentle care. I didn’t realize it until I was deep in your verses, that these poems were the words I needed, were permission to rage, to sorrow, but also to “to see / ‘without blurring the beauty with loss,’” (5).

They whispered small hopes into the hidden crevices of my mind, until every leaf and bird I passed declared itself a thing of grace in my mind. In one poem, you write “…even if it feels/impossible to find sweetness here, still, some people can, and do,” (58). You not only find sweetness in the world, but you share it with your readers like an offering. 

Your poetry treats women with a reverence so little seen in the media. You offer lamentations for lost girls, power in the shape of goddesses, and triumphs for all women to share. Balanced on a razor’s edge you have perched the glory of womanhood with the danger of it: “The mother is saying ‘you will suffer and be lost,’/and the daughter hears/ ‘I am a goddess, too,” (59). 

After reading one too many hashtags, whether #bringbackourgirls, or #metoo, this was the kindness I so craved. While it was a reminder of that worry I carry for all the ladies in my life, it also prompted me to see the strength and beauty within ourselves. It reminded me that I can be both, and even as I am lost, I too am a goddess. 

Although I am not a mother, I saw myself in Demeter, teaching her daughter the “simple rules to keep / girls safe,” (23). I thought of all the unspoken rules we women follow often without realizing: don’t sit in a parking lot too long at night; wear earbuds to avoid being approached by unwanted men, but don’t play music—stay aware of your surroundings; count the footsteps behind you, listen if they are gaining on you. 

I see the same pictures you paint: girls abducted, girls drugged, girls raped. You share these fears with your readers, and we know we aren’t the only ones to see these things in every alley. And yet, you don’t leave us there, in the basement, chained to the radiator. Instead, you leave us with a mother who sees only stars in her daughter’s eyes. You don’t leave us with a body, but a girl who sees the world as shiny, bright.

You pen these poems as prayers, for things small and large alike – candied plums, cardinals, ferry terminals, a warm kitchen. You beg for a space not impinged upon by a damaged world. Writing of jonquils, and olive trees, and pilgrimages, and monasteries, you remind the reader of the fantastic beauty still to be found, despite the hunger and violence of the world. These are moments of peace, washing dishes, mowing the lawn, gardening, amongst, or perhaps in defiance of cruelty. You state it yourself how this book is, “…itself / a small bird calling a low whu hoo, hoo, hoo, / as it rushes toward the future’s/empty wind swept rooms,” (9).

When I first read The Long Grass, stealing time for your poems amidst oncoming deadlines, and endless work hours, it felt as if life itself were on hold, as if I had to wait to wonder at life till a vacation. Your writing reminded me to find grandeur in the world. To look for small kindnesses. To find meaning in worship. To rush into the future like a small bird, singing into the unknown.    

Thank you for sharing these hopes and beauties with the world.

Sarah Harder

Sarah Harder lives in Tampa, Florida, where she is pursuing an M.F.A in poetry and works as a writing instructor at the University of South Florida. She has been published in various literary journals, including IO Literary Journal, Glass Mountain, and Furrow Magazine. In her free time, Harder enjoys reading poetry about ghosts, and spoiling her roommate’s dog when she thinks no one is looking.