Spillway, an independent, semiannual journal based in Orange Country, California has been around since 1993. But, Editor Susan Terris remarks in her editor’s note that it’s only been in recent years that Spillway became a themed journal.
This issue’s theme, “Crossing Borders “(or “Border Crossings” if you flip the cover upside down), is an eclectic take on borders of all kinds—seasons, wars, and changing family and relationship dynamics.
Some of the borders crossed in Spillway’s pages are more obvious than others, but the variety of perspectives on the theme makes for a diverse issue full of distinct voices, stories, and styles.
There are, of course, the expected poems of exile and loss, of a sojourner leaving one place for another. But there are also surprises, as well as borders that are not so easily defined.
Take for example, Lauren Nicole Nixon’s “breakdown of a shelterspace.” Nixon plays with the borders of the home: foyer, hallway, tearoom, attic, deck, and, my favorite, fort: “even with the lines give in and you have to rebuild it, you’re certain that / this is the safest place of all.” The compartmentalization of space serves as a map of the memories the narrator has made there, like in the hallway where “they refuse to remove your third grade picture. The one with the cowlick / the one where you’re looking at the camera / but not quite.”
Or there’s Richard Garcia’s apocalyptic “The Abandoning” where the narrator muses playfully on an ambiguous exodus: “Just when did The / Abandoning happen? Were there many abandonings, or just one? No one / knows, but downtown there is a stepladder embedded in concrete, some say it is / the letter A, but others say it is a memorial to The Abandoning.”
As one might expect in an issue about crossing borders, the issue is rich with translations and international voices. A standout is Naoko Fujimoto’s sobering “The First Night,” a poem in fragments remembering the Japanese tsunami of 2011. In sparse, powerful images, the narrator recalls the events with heartbreaking precision: “A little yellow shoe drifted away. I / clasped my hands around a tree / trunk & smelled the endless / water desert.” The result is a border the narrator must cross against her will:
I waved my hands to the silver
whistles of a helicopter in the morning
sky. It dropped a rope like a spider
thread three miles away from my tree.
The issue ends with two essays—both of which meditate upon what it means to navigate life through verse. Lynne Thompson’s “At the Edge of the Grab-wheel” discusses the borders between the individual and the family by comparing the dynamic to works by Rilke, Neruda, and Yusef Komunyakaa.
And Shawn Pittard recalls an experience in which a young man he mentored navigated the border of people’s perceptions of his father’s suicide by performing the poem “Richard Cory” at his high school.
Both essays seem to lay out in prose the argument that the rest of the issue makes in verse: that perhaps there is no better tool than poetry when it comes to understanding—or attempting to understand—all of the various border crossings of our lives.