My rating: 4 of 5 stars
From the title alone, you know that Girl on a Bridge will involve danger, personal transition, or perhaps lost youth. Suzanne Frischkorn’s second poetry collection contains many of these standard elements, yet so much more. Frischkorn’s challenges the weighty assumption of what “a girl on a bridge” means beyond suicide thoughts or coming of age. The subjects in her poems are everyday girls and women who are dealing with complicated relationships from their past or their present. These are women who have sex, deal with grief, and struggle with their emotions. Frischkorn exposes the women’s complexities in sometimes not so flattering a light, and by doing so she never relies on clichés or the expected. In the real time of the poem they couldn’t stand up for themselves, but now through the devices of line, metaphor, and images, they are strongly speaking out now. Several of these poems also feature pregnancy and motherhood told poignantly from fresh angles. In fact, all of this collection’s poetry invites surprise and multiple reads to ensure all of the layers are accurately caught.
Frischkorn is a Connecticut girl and this state, along with New Jersey and New York, is where many of her poems live. While Connecticut can be considered developed, it also provides Frischkorn much inspiration in terms of rivers, farmland, maple trees, and bridges, of course. She also upends the notion of what nice girls should do or look like in “Great Lash,” which models itself closely to Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem, “We Real Cool.”
We cut school and watched Foxes
We cut school and drank vodka.
We cut school and got stoned,
did our makeup, walked the streets.
In the titular poem, “Girl on a Bridge,” Frischkorn plays with the title’s expectations by opening her poem with this line:”—And she tossed the red beret/into the Seine turning her back/on Paris forever. No she didn’t.” By acknowledging the image of the 1999 French movie by the same name, she’s free to go off to Greenwich, Connecticut, which she does:
—She was on a bridge
overlooking the Mianus.
Yes, with 95 South behind her.
She wore a blue ski cap
and a black pea coat. She looked
turned around to hitch a ride
to the Kit Kat Club on NYC’s
East Side. That’s the kind of
girl she was. A straight shooter,
a go getter—not some freak
throwing good money away.
Frischkorn’s evocative use of enjambment in between stanzas propels the reader like she’s the one being pushed off a bridge. This poem, like so many of hers, is short, tells a complete story and lets the reader take an imaginative leap.
There’s not so much a leap in “Bees,” as there’s a sharp turn in the last line, which is so universal. We’ve all been told hurtful things about our bodies from people we look up. We then take what they say and believe it’s true when it’s not.
under my t-shirt.
I had a crush
his blue eyes,
his blond hair.
on my porch steps
wrecked by posture forever.
The poems where Frischkorn describes her father’s violence and lack of a safe zone growing up are some of the most powerful in the collection.
In “Sister,” the speaker is five and she sees her older sister escape a violent household, while she is told by her mother that “in families like ours the healthiest person leaves” which certainly doesn’t help the situation.
As a child she can’t verbalize her frustration and sadness, which is felt in her body. Not one to let an image opportunity to go to waste, Frischkorn transforms this sentiment into a closed seam because as a child she lacked a way to express herself.
I want to remind my mother that at five there is nowhere
to go, but my mouth
(full of coppery blood from biting my tongue)
is sewn tight with a gleam of steel and nylon thread—
the seams about to bust.
Towards the end of the collection, Frischkorn revisits her violent household in “Suspended,” which works as a bridge metaphor and repeats the image of a mouth. But this time, she incorporates her son who is more defiant than his mother was.
If I could go back and swallow my tongue…
Would my son have stayed in his room
instead of climbing out the window
not a star or moon to guide him?
Gone until we notice. We notice the quiet.
At this point in the poem, she employs anaphora (“this one”) to emphasize the weight of her past and the repetition of history of absent fathers:
I count and match them to my sins
—this one for the time I ran away to Chicago
—this one for staying out all night,
—this one for pushing my mother,
And this one and this one.
This one for thinking his father
was a safe haven, a respite, a man.
Maple leaves, chicken eggs and a venerable sex manual all press together in “The Joy of Sex,” which describes two young friends witnessing a couple, Lila and George, having sex who happen to be one girl’s brother and the other girl’s sister. The last image of transformation effectively transitions a hard, scraping image with a softer one:
We watch rock grind Lila’s spine
and splinter her tailbone. The petal
Shaped bruises, inside her pale thighs,
will bloom tomorrow.
Whenever we introduce bridges into writing our mind automatically turns to how bridges can symbolize change, passage, and conflict. They can also serve as a monument to the past or to the future. This is what Frischkorn does. She uses her bridges to stand in for her past and her subjects’ pasts, as they become proxies for the stored-up feelings that must now be released. Through clear language and images that are easy to visualize, she is at her best when she takes specific details to make them applicable for any reader who knows what it means to change.