Terrain.org exists at the meeting place of natural and manmade, an online magazine on human nature and our place within the natural the world. Work is added to the website on a rolling basis, so there is always a chance for readers to encounter something new upon each visit. So far, this month provides new poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for exploration, as well as a guest editorial: “Letter to America” by Barbara Hurd.
The latest in the fiction category features a novel excerpt of pH by Nancy Lord (WestWinds Press, 2017). Narrator Ray, in denial of his alcoholism, is part of a ship’s crew studying the ocean’s pH levels off the coast of Alaska. The excerpt leaves off just as we’re learning more of Ray’s inner demons, (“only once on a previous cruise had he even thought about looking for a bottle of vanilla in the ship’s pantry”), making it difficult to move on without ordering a copy of the full book, a good choice by the editors.
In nonfiction, David Carlin guides us along train rails in “The Train That Night.” Carlin seamlessly weaves “that night”— standing between railway tracks with fellow writers—with personal history involving trains, history about trains and the railroads themselves, and railway accidents and tragedies. Carlin keeps bringing us back to “that night,” the center of the other branching ideas, and he is impressive in his ability to teach facts alongside revealing personal experiences and emotions.
While Carlin places us in and around trains, Christina Pugh invites us into a plane with her speaker in “Integrity.” The speaker describes the Blue Ridge Mountains and the surrounding landscape as her plane takes off. Pugh's speaker personifies the area as a good listener, an area of shelter. She questions whether it is wise to assign such integrity to a landscape as this one fades in the distance, asking "Will we never learn?" Probably not, at least not for awhile yet. “I guess it’s still too easy,” the speaker admits, words that are also easy to relate to.
Two poems by Christian Wiman can be found on the website this month, the latter, "Little Flames," especially drawing me to it. Reading a 2009 interview with Wiman on Bookslut, the poet mentions being brought back to faith after a period of identifying as atheist. "Little Flames" seems to speak to this time, faith the flames that are blinking out within the poem. Although not of a faith myself, I was struck by the final image, a beautiful and powerful ending that offers hope to readers:
you were as everywhere
as a gas leak. One real prayer
would set the sky on fire.
The quiet, unassuming poem ends in an explosion. I read the piece over and over, enjoying the build-up each time.
There are five poems by Eric Pankey to enjoy this month. My favorite of the set was “The Open Shutter.” Dedicated to artist Uta Kogelsberger, the piece places us inside one of her works. Pankey writes with haunting images to evoke the feeling of Kogelsberger’s art: “a blur of ghost flesh,” a “wisp of fog unfurled,” a body “transmutes to plasma.” It is as if Pankey has written us as ghosts to haunt Kogelsberger’s night landscapes, a role I was happy to try on and explore. Pankey writes with striking images in all five poems, more of my favorites found in “Late Thoughts.” The speaker waits for sleep, describing it as: “A sub-lunar figure / A weightless aura / A water-edged contour,” all perfect yet simple descriptions for slumber.
Straddle the line between the natural and the manmade with Terrain.org. While the pieces above might be all the new writing found in December, there is plenty online in the archives for readers to uncover and enjoy.