Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

BooksFebruary 9, 2024

The Friday Poem: ‘dissociative amnesia’ by Hebe Kearney

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

A new poem by Tāmaki Makaurau poet and librarian Hebe Kearney.

dissociative amnesia

the mazda demio is in ruins
but she doesn’t remember crashing.

whose hands were those?


whose body

was touched by disaster?


whose eyes saw it?


whose judgment controlled it?

the bumper is crumpled tin foil;
modern cars are built to crunch –
a trick of physics –
but she can drive it, still,
she can.

it wobbles down the motorway
and feels like the handbrake is always a bit on
but it goes, it does.


everyone else’s car
seems so sleek and silent
they glide, accelerate easily
blemish free they shine
making mockeries of her
bent hiccups down suburban streets.

they say, ‘just put your foot down more
going up that hill’,
‘just break smoother,
it’s not that hard’
‘stop the bunny hops’. their fathers
had them behind wheels as children –
they’re naturals – while hers
had other ideas.


she can’t remember,
she thinks she knows
a crash happened.

her hands shake picking up keys,
the sound of ignition
ignites tight terror in her chest but
this is auckland. it’s not like she’s going to
not drive.

so she climbs behind the wheel and
out of her body, again,
floats above the car in the humid sky
while her flesh that remembers
goes through the motions.


she always gets
flat tires with no visible punctures,
and drives around wearing down
the wheels with a god-awful sound –
but at least gets somewhere.

she always has
an empty fuel tank;
petrol glugs into car’s guts
but it’s never satisfied. one day she tries
filling it all the way, but it still shows ‘E’,
even as viscous liquid spews back out the hole
and runs all over her hands and shoes and the forecourt.


so the car is fucked but she doesn’t remember colliding.
in her memories she is driving, driving, driving,
she doesn’t think she’s ever hit anything
but nothing else explains –
blossoming across her shoulders and clavicles –
the whiplash.

who was inside her

when it occurred?


who lived behind her eyes?


who absorbed

hock and vibration?


why does every stop

feel like crashing?


eventually with a catalogue of problems
she calls an insurance company who say
her car fits all the criteria of having been crashed
and she agrees, on paper,
but just. doesn’t. remember.

it can’t have happened to her.

if it did
she’d remember.

if it did
things would be worse.

because, sure, things are bad
she supposes,
but not enough.


The Friday Poem is edited by Chris Tse. Submissions are currently closed.

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