Paula Harris

QMT - June 2019

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?

First published in Queen Mob's Teahouse (2019)

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.