Paula Harris


planning for the future

it was a Saturday morning
in January
and a stranger walked up to my hospital bed
introduced himself as Mike
and told me I was dying.

that morning friends came,
Stephen, Simon and Leonard,
to hear the news
and say fuck;
then Andrew arrived
with his laptop
ready for me to play card games all day,
instead he said fuck too.

during that Saturday
painkillers and potassium dripping into my right arm,
while Andrew read Harry Potter beside me,
dosing on and off
I typed lowercase with my left hand
designing my funeral.

no church, no religion
lots of laughing
poems by Alice Walker,
Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni
songs by Cassandra Wilson, Janet Jackson,
Meshell N’degeocello and Oscar Peterson;
my mother is definitely not to attend.

cremate me
don’t send me to the Harris family plot;
Andrew is to scatter my ashes over the Tararuas.

after work was over
for the day
Stephen, Simon, Sally
Suzanne and Marianne
came to see me
and asked
in the awkward way you ask someone who’s dying
what I’d been doing that day.

I told them I’d designed my funeral;
they all went quiet
and looked at the dirty beige hospital lino.

I didn’t die that day
or the day after;
instead Mike cut me open
and saved my life
on Sunday.

but in case it’s ever needed
I’ve kept the funeral plan;
look in C:\My Documents\paula
for a file called songs.doc,
and remember -
no churches.

First published in JAAM 19 (2003)

Paula Harris

About Paula

Paula Harris lives in Aotearoa/New Zealand, where she writes and sleeps 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 was a semi-finalist for the 2020 92Y Discovery Poetry Prize. She was the recipient of a Vermont Studio Center writing residency in 2018.

Her poetry has been published in various journals, including Passages North, Barren, New Ohio Review, SWWIM, Gulf Coast, The Spinoff, Poetry New Zealand Yearbook and Aotearotica. Her essays have been published in The Sun, Passages North, The Spinoff and Headlands: New Stories of Anxiety (Victoria University Press).

She is extremely fond of dark chocolate, shoes and hoarding fabric.