Poems: Paula Harris

trying to teach my ex how to take care of this house

I have been trying to teach him for the last three years
some of the things that he’ll need to manage

even after fifteen years in this house
he still doesn’t know any of it, no matter my lessons

it is exhausting to run an old house when I can barely get out of bed

the garden is not a matter of but I just weeded that three months ago!
there are copper sprays as a preventative and pyrethrum for the cherry slugs

liquid fertilisers that will make his hands stink of dead fish,
pruning and training the pear and quince trees that grow along the side fence

in August he needs to feed the trees their annual dose of Ocean Solids
and then every five years you give it a miss, so he needs to track the years

he will have to sweet talk them all, all the pretty trees

I didn’t know any of this shit before we moved here and I still don’t
I just look around and google whatever looks like it needs help

the citrus trees always need more bloody help

I grew up with a strict house rule that if you’re going to have long hair
then you bloody need to deal with it which isn’t that harsh of a rule

I keep having to get out the plunger to unclog the laundry sink
and rub my fingers against the carpet to ball up all this hair

and none of its mine, is it? I’m the one with a shaved head

he always says he can’t deal with the tradesmen because I have to work
like no one else on the planet has to work and get the leaking toilet fixed

I’ve reminded him so many times we like all our tradies, we trust them,
just give them a key but he won’t and so one day he’ll be living in the dark

no power, a leaking toilet, the roof blown off, but still no tradies

once a fortnight he’ll need to walk around the outside of the house
eyes open, checking for flaky paint or rotten boards or anything that needs to be seen

eyes open, eyes open, eyes open

in summer, when he comes home in the sunlight,
the first thing he does is pull the curtains closed

look! I say to him
look, it’s not dark yet! why are you closing the curtains?

oh, because it’s night time he tells me
and then opens them again

after dinner I sit on the couch, looking out the window,
watching the sky change colours

who is going to remind him that it’s not yet dark?
how many sunsets will he miss from not looking?


the person you love is dead

you can’t win me back
you can’t find your happily-ever-after with me
because the person you love is dead

you can’t recapture the naïve happiness of a new relationship
you can’t live with the old me
because the person you love is dead

that person who said I love you
that person who got up to make you breakfast before you left for work
that person who would meet you at the airport and kiss you for far too long
that person you love is dead

just as I can’t go back to the old loves
the maybes
the could’ve beens
the were-they-the-ones
because they are all dead;
all of them,

you can’t turn me back into the one that you want to be with
you can’t change my mind
you can’t get me to love you again
because the person you love is dead


Dear Tinder guy, if you’re going to be a creep, then at least be a mass murderer

I’d much rather that you just flat out murdered me, quickly please

don’t keep me captive in your garden shed
for the next sixteen years
feeding me mince and white bread and overcooked carrots
and, worst of all, weetbix for my breakfast;
inject me with a muscle relaxant, drag me across
the kitchen floor and tie me to a chair,
then needle into my vein and drain all my blood

even though I am looking to have sex
please don’t be a rapist if it turns out
that I’m not interested in you;
none of that, just slice my throat open
and get off on the pump of my arterial blood
decorating the room

if you feel cannibalistic urges after I’m dead
that’s fine, I can’t protest anyway,
just don’t be nice and tell me
how you’re looking for your true love, your soul mate;
get on with it and slam an axe into the back of my head
riving my skull open while I browse through your CD collection


a wolf named Naya became the first wolf on Belgian soil on over 100 years, covering up to
70 kilometres a night, which somehow led me to write this poem,

in which I am a sheep

but you keep a pet sheep
letting it wander in and around your home
with freedom, watching movies with it,
making it breakfast, giving it good night hugs

it’s okay if someday you and your sheep need to talk
about how you’ll both manage things when you meet a llama,
or the sheep meets a bull,
and how to juggle sheep-in-the-house / llama-staying-overnight / jealous-bull-or-llama
logistics and personal politics

but when you fence off a section of grass
and tell the sheep that This Is Where It Is To Live Now
because Boundaries Are Needed,
as we learnt, it doesn’t work out so well

this poem is a bit weird, and I don’t really know
why I’m a sheep in it, but it’s incredibly lonely
being put out in a paddock surrounded by invisible wire
when I’m used to good night hugs and being in the house

relationships don’t need boundaries to be set,
they happen organically and things either are or aren’t,
which you might dismiss as Overly Simplistic
but that’s better than Overly Complicated

so you can’t be surprised when the sheep,
freshly shorn, put into a paddock by itself
to face the cold and a she-wolf,
resigns itself to having its throat torn out


there are many different ways to say I love you, and I prefer ones that don’t involve
flowers from the supermarket (although I do love irises and extravagant bouquets of lilies
with pink centres)

I am parking the car, having found a car park easily
(which is always a bonus)
when Mike says

I’d let you drive my car.

I look at him out of the corner of my eye,
still weighing up the distance between the wheels and the curb,
if I’m giving the next one to park enough space behind me,
and say

No you wouldn’t.

Mike loves his car

Mike loves to hate his car

Mike hates to love his car

Mike drives a Nissan 300ZX, black, 1989, which he’s worked on for six years
taking out the engine and biffing out the unnecessary bits
(which always concerns and amazes me; how
does he know they’re unnecessary?)
before putting it all back together

modifying the bits that irritate him,
creating the bits he thinks should’ve been there in the first place,
upgrading the brakes,
polishing the chrome under the chassis
(even though no one will ever see it)

I’ve never seen a car engine so beautiful and clean
and I comment on the insanity of cleaning a car engine with such frequency
(although I say it with a little bit of awe)
and I tease him about the wheels with their oversized rims and what they’re implying

when we go out in his car he crawls over any rise or fall in the road
and parks as far away from other cars as possible
in case someone might nudge against the paintwork

I’d let you drive my car.

No you wouldn’t.

I put on the handbrake and switch off the engine and turn to him

Yes I would.

Mike, you love your car.

he shrugs

It’s just a car.

it’s not just a car

It’s not just a car. You love your car.

he looks at the automatic gearbox of my car
(Toyota Corolla sedan, silver, 2012)

You can drive a manual, right?

I snort

Of course I can.

Then I’d let you drive my car.

But what if I crashed it? What if I scraped the tyres?

It’s just a car.

So you let people drive your car?

he frowns


I triumph

See, you wouldn’t let me drive it!

I’d let you drive my car.

we undo our seatbelts and get out, walking down the hill
and I nudge my shoulder against Mike’s
and he nudges his against mine



Paula Harris lives in New Zealand, where she writes poems and sleeps in a lot, because that's what depression makes you do. She won the 2018 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize and the 2017 Lilian Ida Smith Award, and her chapbook "i make men like you die sweetly" will be published in September 2019 by dancing girl press. Her poetry has been published in various journals, including Berfrois, Queen Mob's Teahouse, Poetry NZ Yearbook, SWWIM, Glass, The Spinoff and Landfall. She is extremely fond of dark chocolate, shoes and hoarding fabric, and tweets randomly at @paulaoffkilter


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