Paula Harris

the life expectancy of a cloud

I try to calculate if there is any point to health insurance
or retirement savings or planning ahead

women in New Zealand have an average life expectancy of 83.3 years
giving us 3.3 years more than men

recurrent depression reduces life expectancy by 7 to 11 years
(smokers only lose 8 to 10 years, which seems messed up)

poets live on average 62.2 years (66.2 if they’re American)
compared to the longevity of novelists and their 66 years
while nonfiction writers flaunt their 67.9

no one writes about the implications of Crohn’s disease
or an ileostomy, but surely nine years of being malnourished
has had some effect? now I live with the threat of kidney stones
and mesh infections and feel the constant yearning for a night where my sleep
isn’t disturbed by my ostomy bag needing attention

loneliness is a predictor of premature death
while marriage will shorten a woman’s life by a year;
having a much younger husband will shorten it even more
(although maybe it’d be worth it);
heartbreak can literally break your heart or cells into a thousand pieces
that can never be put back together

my cells are turning on me at an ever-increasing rate


First published in The Spinoff (2018)
Also published in The Friday Poem (Luncheon Sausage Books) (2018)

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.