APPROACHING THE FIELDS, BY CHANDA FELDMAN
In “Headwaters,” Chanda Feldman writes “I am a river, / rocks are memory: I turn them, / rub them until the rough rounds and is no longer / a sharp to carry.” This is what she does in her debut collection Approaching the Fields, published by LSU Press, through her exploration of lineage, family history, personal experience, and race within her ancestral town in rural Tennessee. Feldman’s field becomes a liminal space where lines meet, where “sentences unravel like leaves / from limbs or a fraying hem” and her lyric ebbs through form and free verse, like the ever-changing topography of the speaker, her family, and the South.
In “Laboring,” the eighth poem of the crown sonnet “But We Lived,” Feldman draws parallels between a woman in labor and the historical labor of the fields through slavery and sharecropping. Quoting midwives, she describes this labor as “equally a place of living and dying—shadow land.” Like this “shadow land,” these poems blur the lines between elegy and celebration. This land is a place scarred by loss on a scale both macro and micro, by the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, and by countless familial deaths. Loss haunts the landscape, often personified as haints or relegated to lore, where “...those panthers / the old folks talked about, claimed they yelped / like a crying woman. As a child, I didn’t know / that was said to keep me clear of the woods.” And yet, this is a place of family, intimacy and memory, where “My grandmother walked the field road / home to birth my mother in her room.”
Though family homes burn to the ground and the speaker’s grandparents’ “bones rose on floods and washed away,” there grow “roses beneath kitchen windows,” where listening to “chamber music on the stereo, / we’d grill in the backyard, sit through dusk’s mosquitoes / fireflies, junebugs, and moths.” Approaching the Fields walks seemingly irreconcilable roads and unites them in prayer. Fieldman writes of “the soil needing to be fixed,” but her collection reads as an invocation to the strength of her ancestors: “I will die wanting/ To hear again my name in the mouths / Of my old women. Let them call me in / My daydreams on the summer quilt to rise.”