Terrain.org Reviews.





The Hard and the Sweet

Wendy Burk reviews Girl on a Bridge, poems by Suzanne Frischkorn

Girl on a Bridge, poems by Suzanne Frischkorn“Great Lash,” the first poem of Girl on a Bridge, offers the refrain “We were not sweet girls,” a line that for me hearkens back to Marjorie Agosín’s landmark anthology These Are Not Sweet Girls. It’s a suitable refrain for Frischkorn’s second collection, which shows us a progression of women’s lives and roles—teen, married woman, unhappily married woman, ex-wife, remarried woman, mother—that is more accurately described as hard or tough than sweet. The hard luck, frustration, rage, and occasional fulfillment we pass through in Frischkorn’s work are all easy to relate to, and while the poems encourage us to identify with these feelings, they don’t allow us to wallow:

—And she tossed the red beret
into the Seine turning her back
on Paris forever. No she didn’t.
—And you’re a fool if you think
she would toss a perfectly good
beret ($23.95 on sale at Saks)
into a filthy river. She wasn’t

even in Paris.

            (from “Girl on a Bridge”)

Moving through Girl on a Bridge, we experience a general progression through time: the teenager of “Great Lash” becomes an adult becomes a wife becomes the mother of the book’s final poem, “December.” And yet, juxtapositions between poems tend to jar us. Sometimes, things happen backwards here, or over and over. A tender love poem is sandwiched between two poems about marital unhappiness. A nightmare poem about Andrea Yates precedes a poem about giving birth, which precedes a poem about pregnancy.

Such time shifts are puzzling and pleasing.

Puzzling, because they force the reader to look at the poems again and wonder: are these the same voice, the same speaker? Is the pregnant woman in “A Comfortable Pair of Pants” the same woman who gave birth in “Birthday,” and who struggles with her child’s behavior in “Divine Madnes?” And is this (are these) speaker(s) the poet herself—an assumption I certainly made at the start of the book, but later began to question?

Pleasing, because I like the jarring effect of being pushed to and fro in time, and of being forced to question my basic assumptions about who speaks in these poems and why.

When Frischkorn achieves this time flux within a single poem, as in “Panther and Bathing Suit,” the result is a true standout. This poem, in which a young boy steals panties from a clothesline (when? in March, in August?) and an observer (where? how?), speaking to an unspecified you (who?), links his panicked flight to sleekness, reminds me of the Ray Bradbury short story “The Sound of Summer Running.” It’s specific, yet iconic; visceral, yet wrapped in a cloud. This time, though, it’s a woman interpreting the young boy’s story and linking it to her life.

Readers who loved the natural images of Frischkorn’s first collection, Lit Windowpane, will find that Girl on a Bridge has a little less water. Yes, there are a couple of bridges here, but they appear more as gritty instruments carrying cars from point A to B than as soaring curves above a river. That doesn’t make the book less concerned with ecology; Girl on a Bridge makes a case for the woman’s urban/suburban experience as a feverish symptom of ecological dystopia.

Two surrealist poems from the collection provide a case in point. Following “Bow Hunter,” in which the speaker loses her uterus, then her breasts, to “The Medicaid doctor,” in which she gets locked by her ex-husband “in a basement apartment / with a baby—both of us sick / with the Asian flu,” we arrive at a similar captivity in “Zoological Garden”: “cement frogs with faulty faucets did me in; / the peacocks screaming in protest... Siberian tiger, listless, behind its chain-link cage, / as if removing bars made thing humane.” The parallels, the sense of menace, are deeply felt.

Remember, the adjective we might use to describe this book is hard. That’s what Frischkorn tells us: being a woman is hard. Urban life is hard (and suburban life is awful). We grow up into a hardness that is equally hard to escape. Yet although this is so, the eyes aren’t totally dulled. They search for something alive:

 … The point
 is—I turn to my left in disgust
and in front of the gray house
with white trim—here a tenth
of a mile from the projects—in
a yard no bigger than my bathroom,
grows a cornfield.
            (from “Public Transportation”)

To return to the opening poem of Girl on a Bridge and its refrain, “We were not sweet girls,” Frischkorn does something very interesting in the last stanza of that poem:

We were not sweet girls, no. If there had
been corn, or stars? Maybe the deep
sweet girlness would have surfaced—dreamy
            fresh-faced girls—petals listening to rain.

In just four lines, Frischkorn reverses her definition of sweetness, earlier posited in the poem as a shortcoming or sign of weakness. No matter how much bravado or eyeliner we use to conceal it, she says, we do have a yearning to be sweet: not sweet as a synonym for “naïve,” and not sweet in terms of gender only, but sweet in the sweetness that ‘nature’ shows us, that we see slipping away from us: “petals listening to rain.” Frischkorn suggests in her last poem, “December”—which compares her daughter looking out a window to “a Cattleya Orchid / —her breath / a mist on wet pane,” that such sweetness emerges from how we are seen, but also how we see. “If there had been corn, or stars” to see, or rain to listen to, the girls of “Great Lash” could have experienced a softening, a sweetening in their maturity. And perhaps that potential still exists. The body ages in Frischkorn’s poems, but the eyes do not.


Wendy Burk is the author of The Deer and the translator of Tedi López Mills's While Light is Built. Her work has recently appeared in Terrain.org, Tygerburning, and Back Room Live. Look for new work forthcoming in The Drunken Boat and The Literary Review. And for something completely, poetically different, check out this interview and this Poemgraph.
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Girl on a Bridge

By Suzanne Frischkorn

   Main Street Rag
   76 pages
   ISBN 978-1-59948-226-2

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