Paula Harris

We meet over an iced chocolate and a banana milkshake and Mary is enraged that a gang member in his 60s, who makes jokes about rape and violence and sees no value in women, gets the kind of job that she is working through a double degree (Criminology and English Literature) to even try to apply for, while I meet the criteria for poor starving poet (including the clinical depression and increasing desire to commit suicide) and yet I struggle to get publishers to pay attention; so we decide to cre

We will threaten our victims that they must give us their money
or be forced to read a poem.


We will be merciless.

We won’t target random people walking down the street
(although we may occasionally walk too closely behind them,
reciting as many lines as we can
as they runwalk away from us as fast as they can),

or small business owners who are delicately trying to balance
sleeping and paperwork and customers and eating and emails
and family and money and writing their business plan in their spare time
(but we might slip short poems under their doors
to make them pause for a moment).

We will hold a sharpened lead pencil to the carotid arteries of
too rich businessmen and offer them a chance to save themselves
by reading Tony Hoagland to us;
if they stumble over the line breaks
then we will press the point in and let blood pump
over their white shirts and striped ties and office desk blotters.

For gang members we will hover a single sheet of 90gsm A5 paper
just above their fingertips;
if they slip up while reading Wordsworth
and letting the words rise and fall with their breath
we shall be unforgiving as the first of five hundred (eventually) fatal
paper cuts open up their bodies.

We suspect we will probably become quite happily well off,
with most preferring to give us money (in unmarked bills)
than to read a poem;

but if our victims are willing to risk their luck and experience a poem,
well, the world may be a little bit richer for the words.

So we will always win.

First published in takahē 92 (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.