Fixed Star by Suzanne Frischkorn
| Jackleg Press | $18.00 | ISBN: 9781737513476 | 72 pp. | September 2022
“Nothing given us to keep is lost.” –Suzanne Frischkorn, Fixed Star (Jackleg Press, 2022)
In Fixed Star, Suzanne Frischkorn uses sonnets and lyric poems to explore her relationship to Cuba, the home taken from her by a violent regime, leaving her with an ocean, a ruptured history, and echoes of a language she couldn’t reclaim.
Reading this collection, it’s impossible to overlook the oceanic imagery. Lines like “All the years by the sea / taught her every definition of blue” evoke the ocean Frischkorn crossed when her family was allowed to leave Cuba just before Castro turned on his own supporters. “I've been to other oceans, but…being on that particular beach, I became very emotional,” she said of a recent trip to Miami, which she called her “original landscape.” In these poems, the ocean is a symbol of home, whether it guides her toward home or follows her beyond it: “What does it mean to disappear? / To lose the little sea inside you?”
Such a sense of loss is woven into much of Fixed Star, most notably in the loss, or, rather, the theft, of the speaker’s mother tongue. Frischkorn described her father’s response to narrowly escaping the fate of his companions: “This kind of trauma destroyed [him]…He didn't want us to speak Spanish…he didn't want to talk about Cuba.” Upon arriving in Miami, her school encouraged her parents to stop speaking Spanish so she could improve her English. “It's a violence,” Frischkorn said, reflecting on how she can’t understand people reciting their poetry in Spanish. “It's like [taking] someone from their history.” With so much of identity tied to language, it’s evident why these poems explore identity and its perception by others. The last two poems of the collection depict a scene where the speaker is recognized as Cuban. When I asked her about this moment, Frischkorn said she felt “a wholeness”; “whatever I say, I am right. I'm not half Cuban. I'm not half American.”
This moment crystallizes the self-defining of identity, which, for many members of the diaspora, can be a scavenger hunt. Fixed Star contends with the malleable nature of memory and our ability/need to construct it. “Because we are outside of the mother country,” Frischkorn told me, “[we’re] relying so much on other people's memories, and [memory] changes.” The last couplet of sonnet “IX” is “So I continue with my father’s story, / making up details as I go along.” Frischkorn explained that this act of fabrication resulted from realizing she would never know the truth of her family’s history: “you're left with not knowing who you are.” To try to fill in the gap, Frischkorn turned to research: “I was looking for myself, I was looking for my people.” But this process revealed that her people didn’t share her cultural background. They were other writers. And as she came to that conclusion about identity, I came to an analogous one about writing; The work of writing a poem is the same kind of curation: to piece small moments into something complete. To build an identity from fragments.
Brittany Torres Rivera is a bilingual, Puerto Rican writer. She graduated from Florida International University with a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. Brittany is an alumna of the Fulbright Program and currently works as an Editorial and Administrative Assistant at Graywolf Press.