"Fieldglass" by Catherine Pond
Reviewed by Hannah Bonner
I read Catherine Pond’s Fieldglass three months after my last heartbreak. Love and sex are brutal; but then again, so is life. In her first collection, Pond’s poems tilt a kaleidoscope of experiences to the light, and the refractions of family, rape, death, self-harm, alcoholism, among others, dazzle in the clarity of their candor. Ensconced in Pond’s words, alone in my bed, no man can touch me. To perch on each page of her poems is to hush, gobsmacked by the beauty and precarity of a woman’s body moving through space and time; to trace the various threads of her narratives is to touch the edges of my truth: my own queerness, my variegated pleasures, my predictable pains.
The opening poem “Like Rain” holds tenderness and terror in the same palm. A father digs the narrator out of a pile of snow. Later, inside a house alone, listening to records, “I trace the invisible illness growing inside me.” The speaker of the poem addresses an unidentified “You” who “come[s] and then go[es] like summer rain.” This line becomes a refrain, underscoring both the narrator’s acceptance of the inevitable while also, perhaps, suggesting an attempt to convince herself that this arrival and departure is, in fact, real and ontic as the elements in cold or in heat. The repetition also foregrounds a central theme in the book of loss: of innocence, a best friend’s brother, and various lovers.
“I float hands-free / over an altar of knives,” Pond elucidates in “Like Rain,” and I marvel at any woman who escapes girlhood unscathed. You’re not safe in the snow or in the house. You’re not safe in the body you never asked for. How to be looked at or how to hurt are games to which I was, like so many, indoctrinated early. Play with me, and you’ll see I’ve been engaging one or the other all my life. Like the first two couplets of Pond’s poem “Summer House,” “For years I let no one touch me. I had myself to preserve. / Not to mention the poems, which, like rocks, refused penetration // It was a surprise to discover my body, collapsed like a bridge, / but still beautiful, still wet with snow.” Yet, Pond’s poems, while dark, are not fatalistic. The body and the voice stubbornly survive. “The trick is…Not to touch / the death drive passing back and forth // between us” she writes in “Deer in Bright Snow.” The body may break, physically or psychically, under our own hand or another’s, but it is still beautiful, despite all the ways we can’t always care for it. To recognize this duality is another form of love.
And the love, to paraphrase Maggie Nelson, is monstrous and large in Pond’s collection. In “Winter Sister,” two girls sleep together on the floor after a brother dies. “We live so far apart,” Pond writes, “but I still wake / searching for your shape in the dark.” Later, in another poem, the two best friends, now grown, walk through the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History. The friend is pregnant, and she places Pond’s hand on her stomach to feel the baby’s kick. Pond surveys scenes of natural disasters in the museum’s exhibits. But the poem concludes brimming with possibility as “the fish are still just / forming. The first forests taking shape.” The natural world becomes a metonymy for intimacy in Fieldglass, at once pastoral and surreal. In “Forest Horse,” the narrator leaves the house on a snowy evening to greet a white horse walking out of the woods. They regard one another before she holds him close like a lost loved one. “I knew / he might never appear again,” she concludes, “or only after a long snow, in the middle of the night – / and that I would love him forever, / not in spite of the way he stayed gone / for so long, but because of it.”
Before my last heartbreak, when I still felt certain that the love between us, if there was love, was calcified and clear, I told my ex that vulnerability with him felt like a gesture toward freedom. You should be writing this down, he replied. Months later, I read Pond’s poem “Christmas in Alpharetta” where she states, “To be vulnerable is to be in pain.” I wrote it down, and so did she. When the world becomes too much to bear, I reach for the pen or the pill or the stranger’s body or the air in lieu of food. So often, “The old fears squat quietly, hands folded, inside my stomach. Oh, what could you do // to me now.”
You can never hurt me more than I have hurt myself. You can never heal me more than I have already managed. In light, glass can become a shield, a reflective surface. I pull Fieldglass to me again and again when the going gets tough, and like the most astute of writers, Pond blessedly brings me back to a lyrical and nuanced understanding of the vulnerable self. Like the end of “Master Bedroom,” I am no longer “asking for permission” to exist in the world or under a man’s eye. I parse Pond’s pages in recognition. My own face stares back at me. I am learning to love her. Fieldglass guides me there.
CATHERINE POND is a cofounder, with Julia Anna Morrison, of the online literary magazine Two Peach. For four years, she was the assistant director of the New York State Summer Writers Institute. Her poems have appeared in AGNI, The Adroit Journal, Poetry Northwest, and Salmagundi, among others. Currently, she teaches writing at the University of Southern California.
Published 03/19/2021 || Purchase a copy