Shin Yu Pai

Watching My Father Crush a Black Widow
on My Last Day in California


when the laborer
fell through on finishing
the job, my father

left the trunk
to dry on the front
lawn, eighty pounds

of amputated wood
to hack away at
slowly – when I

see him walk
outside, machete
in one hand &

log in the other
I follow, sensing
there will be violence –

maybe a dismembered
finger, or wood
chip to the eye –

he orders me to
heap sticks &
leaves in the yard

waste receptacle
where I discover
the black widow

upside down,
a red hourglass

her abdomen,
the insect we were
all conditioned

to fear, as children,
a mature specimen
in webbed suspension

is hard to ignore
but I do, piling
wood around her

habitat; my father
tells me to kill it
with a stick &

when I keep stacking
saying silent mantras
to will the widow away,

he breaks a bough &
stabs until he’s pinned her
to the plastic wall

I watched how
she never fought
back & then I

covered her body
beneath a mountain
of dead branches;

around us, life
grows wild – algae
blooms in the swimming pool

weeds sprout
through concrete,
mold colonizes a roof

dried lilies in the sunburnt
koi pond, gophers tearing
up the lawn that

my father cuts back
with the rusted mower
blades dulled by

sticks & wood
he intends to bury
beneath the ground

once all life has
drained away
beyond any

possibility of
regeneration –
I think of

the stump that
is my older brother,
the mother that

escaped w/ her life,
the girl that grew up
dreading spiders

learning that
either we kill
or be killed

Shin Yu Pai

The Diamond Path


the stone of my engagement
ring escapes from its setting
somewhere between

deboarding the plane
at midnight in the Inland
Empire & arriving

at my girlhood home
where the local saying is still
homicide, suicide, Riverside

when I wake on the first
day of my stopover,
a yawning loss where light

once winked, the attachments
I’ve fixed upon in my
misreading of the dharma:

there is always
suffering, something lost;
I grow accomplished

at trading attachments –
a father’s affection for a lover’s,
the restorative touch of

my naturopath’s hands;
I contemplate my wedding
band, remembering this vow:

a circle of gold,
engraved in the Indic script
of Avalokitesvara’s mantra,

a promise of recovery
& a dream for the true
wish-fulfilling jewel

Stephanie Barbé Hammer

Riverside, California, November 2nd

I sit in 93 degree weather and shop for coats on line.

I sit and the sweat streams under my armpits as I look for gloves for winter.

I sit and I get so hot and red, I almost pass out it is 1:30 am and I shop for long sleeve shirts and hats and fleece lined boots online.

I sit and curse global warming or whatever it is, and shop for head scarves and long underwear, praying that the shopping will make the temperature drop please drop please drop.

I sit.  I sweat. And then I give up and go to bed.  It’s hot there too.

I lie in 93 degree weather and dream of coats.

Stephanie Barbé Hammer

Junior League Blues

When I lived in NY I walked by the Junior League
After work I walked right past the Junior League
Why you never debutanted those debs would say to me
I ran out of money I said to them, my parents were broke, I explain
But you got money now, you got some money now
So why don’t you come back to the Junior League?

When I was 16 I went to meetings at the Junior League
Such dull empty meetings at the Junior League
Why you doing that?, my Jewish Marxist boyfriend asked me.
My parents are making me I told him, they insist I participate I complained
But you got political consciousness; you’re in the class struggle now
So don’t you go back to the Junior League.

Today in LA I carry poems past the Junior League
I see a lady with a Benz right in front of the Junior League
Won’t you come in, she says. I’ve got tea sandwiches, chocolates, and I even have gin
I’m an anarchist, I explain again. I’m a feminist, queer-friendly and mostly vegan
Well why didn’t you say so in the first place? she tells me
We don’t want anyone like THAT at the Junior League.

Stephanie Barbé Hammer

Port Chicago, California



You’d hardly know

                                                    spit was here would you?

This place, this port

                                                    stationed along the road

Off the 680, I think it’s the 4

                                                     —That’s where the memorial park is.

We think of battles

                                                     and bombs in WW2,

Not of accidents.

                                                     We don’t think of black

Soldiers in the segregated

                                                     navy stocking the

war machine

                                                     with tragic results.

They loaded the ships with

                                                     bomb boxes—the explosion was seen

for miles.  The force

                                                     broke windows in Frisco –

We don’t think of these things,

                                                     unless “we” aren’t white.

And then perhaps we know

                                                     some of this story.

But even then

                                                     perhaps not –

these things being forgotten


But we being primarily

                                                     positioned in privilege

Barrel up this road to

                                                     procure fine wines in Napa—

we did not know that

                                                     Port Chicago was here

til now.  We did

                                                     not suspect:

That the worst accident of the war

                                                     happened here

That some soldiers

                                                     who survived the explosions

were sent to perform identical duties –

                                                     without training.

That they refused to embark on

                                                     further labor of this kind,

That they were court-martialed

                                                     Jailed. Thorough Good

Marshall argued the case,

                                                     and got the men out of jail

but the court martial stood.

                                                     As we cruise up

to taste chardonnay,

                                                     merlots, and syrahs

Past this park, now a memorial,

                                                     at last a remembering place,

where 320 men died,

                                                     I think we ought to


                                                     Don’t you?