Isabel Haarhaus

Isabel Haarhaus is a writer and teacher who lives in Auckland with her family. She holds a Doctorate in English from the University of Auckland and has published poetry, short stories, essays, reviews and art writing. Isabel recently completed a collection of short stories, Other People’s Houses, and is currently working on a novella.


Words for Healing #1: Grave Clothes

You had to get past the break, which took a while: a lot of jumping and determination for sure. If you timed it wrong, one would smack you flat on your body and then swipe your face with its lash. You had to either jump or dive into the smooth curve of its innards. If you got that right then you could lift with it, arching your back, and drop gently back onto the ocean floor as the wave carried on behind you, grandly undeterred, like a cat leaving the scene of the crime.

Once you were past the break, the sea was a dense crumple of blue rises. You could swim out and catch the big ones in or stay put and let whatever came take you. You could turn to face the land, lifted and looking. It was as if you had died and gone to heaven and there was something in the desolate length of the beach seen from far into the water, in the melancholy beauty, in the smooth broken limbs dumped on the wet sand, the overall relentlessness of the place; in the eye-squinting rough beauty of it, which was just like Meike’s heart.

Grave clothes, someone said of the dark dangerous waves in a poem the girl loved. Had someone just drowned? Meike couldn’t remember, but she had written it down in her book: Grave clothes.

Yes, that is how she wore the sea, like grave clothes. Heavy and ceremonial were the waves at Waiotahi Beach where Meike landed from Europe after her mother died.