how we end

By Paula Harris

it will be the day after our fifteenth anniversary

we started late, so we were already middle-aged at the start
so after fifteen years we’ll be what others call old

we will have lasted a solid fourteen years, ten months, and most of a day
longer than I expected
and so for fourteen years, ten months, and most of a day
I’ll have been confused by our continuing existence

how will you go through fifteen years and most of a day
without realising what a fuck-up I am?

during that time you’ll have been to more book launches
than you ever expected you would,
and since you never thought you’d ever be at a book launch
your showing up at each of them will be a personal gift;
you loiter at the back of the room with a bottle of whatever
cold beer is your current choice, maybe Heineken that day;
you don’t say much to the other people there,
you sit quietly through the post-launch celebratory dinners
when I’m buzzed and hyper or exhausted and freaked out
and we hold hands under the table;
once we get home we strip down and have sex
and you still look at me like I’m the best thing you’ve ever seen

I won’t watch a single rugby game
but I ask who won and if the All Blacks did alright,
if it was a good game, and you give me your thoughts
in a surprisingly detailed yet concise analysis

because you know this shit bores me
and from time to time I even remember
one of the players’ names and you smile at me
like you would a child trying to show off their knowledge of the alphabet
despite always misplacing the q

we still live in separate houses
because I’m smart enough to have figured out that living with someone
isn’t something I can cope with;
we spend time at each other’s homes
but more at yours, even though your kids hate it
when they drop by unannounced
and we’re naked on the kitchen floor
or I’m sucking you in the living room
or you’re going down on me on the dining table

so your kids always knock on the door, loudly,
then wait fifteen seconds before walking in

we always laugh at this

at some point in those fifteen years we reach the point
where we go to movies together sometimes,
cook meals together semi-regularly,
which is a bit of a backwards way of being,
starting with the sex and then moving toward dating
but somehow it works and sometimes even makes sense

I still find it hard that you don’t talk much
but try to keep in my head that when you do say something
it’s always the right thing;
I remind myself over and over again
of how it feels when you look at me
and how then I know that we’re alright

the day after our fifteenth anniversary
(we won’t have done a romantic night out in celebration,
we go down to the river to watch the sunset
and then have sex there, with our aching backs
and sore knees against the unforgiving ground)
the day after our fifteenth anniversary
(I make dessert when we get back to your place
and you cup your hands around my breasts
and laugh real deep and dirty
while I’m beating egg whites to stiff peaks)

the day after our fifteenth anniversary
(you leave me to sleep late as always
while you do laundry and mow the lawns)

the day after our fifteenth anniversary
(we kiss as I walk past you on my way
to have a shower, since your home is now fully supplied
with my shampoo and cleanser and moisturisers,
because it’s been fifteen years)

the day after our fifteenth anniversary
(you sing along to Marvin Gaye while you work
on fixing the squeak in the living room door)

the day after our fifteenth anniversary
late afternoon I get ready to head home
because I want to write
and when I’m with you I never write but I have lots of ideas;
I put my bag in my car and turn back to you
as you put your arms around my waist
and I wrap my arms over your shoulders,
and for the first time
you won’t look at me like you’re the happiest man in the world,
you won’t look at me like nothing could possibly get better than this

and I have been waiting fourteen years, ten months, and most of a day
for this to happen
so will recognise it instantly
and like an extra in Buffy The Vampire Slayer who has just been hit
with sunlight or Mr Pointy or the Hellmouth collapsing
or an axe to the neck

I will be dust

Paula Harris lives in Aotearoa/New Zealand. She won the 2018 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize and the 2017 Lilian Ida Smith Award. Her writing has been published in various journals, including Hobart, Berfrois, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, SWWIM, Diode, Glass, Aotearotica and The Spinoff. She is extremely fond of dark chocolate, shoes, and hoarding fabric. Read more at

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