Paula Harris


The Sushi Chef's Wife

She won't go to the beach
The smell of salt-water clings
To her nostrils for weeks afterwards
Leaving her lethargic and nauseated
Sitting in the bath all day
Trying to wash the salt from her skin

She can't stand fish

He comes into the house through the laundry
Leaving his clothes on the washing machine
Washing in the small shower
Until his hair smells of apples
His skin of lavender, rosemary and tea tree
Then in faded blue cotton shirt and black drill shorts
He comes into her kitchen

She ties the apron strings around her waist

Three years of late dinners
There is always food ready for his arrival
In the early afternoon she shops for food
Only fresh will do
The smooth weight of an eggplant
The marbled feel of a melon
The sweet smell of a steak
Deciding the meal to come

She wheels her trolley carefully to avoid the fish case

Shelves full of mustards and vinegars in her pantry
Pots full of pork bones and puha
Home-made pasta for her linguine
She cooks borscht and curry
Bakes strudel and black pudding
Fills their plates with corned beef

The knife rests delicately in her palm

He lifts the dark curls of hair from her neck
Kissing the sweat that rests there
They make love on the kitchen table
Knocking over the pepper grinder
Pressing wrinkles into the clean tablecloth
The table creaking under their weight

The fisherman always leaves before midnight

First published in Poetry New Zealand 20 (2000)

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.