Poetry Shelf Monday poem: Johanna Aitchison’s ‘ANNA IS DRIVING HER WHITE CAR & HER CAR IS CRYING’






Anna’s white car refuses to leave the driveway without shouting goodbye

to all of the titoki,

the camellias,

the silverbeet,

the letterbox,

the veranda,

the trampoline.




“Those flowers remind me of the blues,” says the white car,

“the sky is bruise bruise bruise,

the tussock is hair follicles of a blond boy.”


“What’s that couch doing on the roadside?” says Anna.

A battered brown leather three-seater.

Anna would wave out if there were people on the couch,

she would shout out “hey!” as she was driving past,

but there are no people on the couch,

no people with legs spaghettied,

no people with light-washed faces,

no people laughing at the television

or crunching Snax & kicking crumbs behind the cushions.




At the reception Anna pays two hundred & sixty dollars for the unit for two nights.

The motel room says, “Do you like my picture?”

“I like it that you’re clean,” says Anna, “I like it that the bed looks new,

there’s Sky TV, a bath, a toaster,

& the owner has given me a little bottle of milk.”


Anna sits down on the bed & looks at the acrylic painting:

“I like it that your picture is a beach scene,

but you’re beside a lake.

A beach scene is more impersonal than a lake scene,

because it’s not connected to the place we’re in;

it’s neither beautiful nor repulsive,

which is the perfect way for a motel picture to be.”


“But do you like me?” says the motel room.

“I like it that you represent an idea,” says Anna,

“you’re more an idea of a motel than an actual motel.

You’re sufficiently general not to make

any claims on me; I like that.

I like you for what you don’t remind me of,

rather than what you do remind me of,

but I don’t want to get too personal with you.”


The motel room does not tell Anna to “turn the fucking TV on”,

because it wants to delay the moment.




When Anna was a child she thought a monster lived in the lake

& when she & her sister splashed in the motel pool at night,

she imagined the monster rising & seizing her from the back

dark corner. These were the kinds of things that terrified her.

The motel, however, wouldn’t talk about bland things

to distract her like it does when she’s an adult,

instead it told her to look up from her Weetbix

at snakes corkscrewing around the curtain rails

& that the carpet would display its incisors,

chomp down on her toes & hold her there.




After Anna finishes talking to the motel room, she walks to the lake & along the path by the lakefront.


There are DANGER stones & stickmen falling off signs at the cliff lip.

Anna notices someone has scraped off some letters:

DANG,           ANGE             —                    DANCE!


The red bicycles chained to the fence beside the lake make Anna so sad.

She doesn’t know if it’s the paint

or the child’s bike lying on its chain

or the horror of discovering, when she steps closer,

the missing pedals, seats, handlebars,

which look samesame from far away, but become uncomfortably individual

as she zooms in.


Anna finds a spot by the lake edge to eat her kebab.

She concludes she will never find the perfect spot,

but the spot she finds is good enough,

against the trunk of a pohutukawa,

she sits & bites through her food.

As Anna eats the chicken, the beef, the hummus, the yoghurt, the lettuce, the chili sauce,

she watches a couple drop their clothes, watches the man run-hop that run-hop you do when the water’s cool. The woman’s wearing a black bikini, & after she stops shrieking, the man pulls her in close for warmth.

Anna takes a photo & posts it to Instagram. If you look carefully, you can spot the entwined couple carved into the cold water. Anna calls her husband. “Did you hear about Christchurch?” he asks.


Johanna Aitchison



Johanna Aitchison is a PhD candidate at Massey University, examining how contemporary innovative poets create cohesion in experimental verse. She was the 2019 Mark Strand Scholar at Sewanee Writers’ Conference in Tennessee, and her poetry has appeared, most recently, in Best Small Fictions 2019 and Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2020.






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