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Car Crash

by on 17 April 2020

Keyhole (Oliver Plumb)textThe True Pain of Tragic Loss

Car Crash

by James Joseph Hunter

Critique by Quentin Weiver

Statistics! We get a lot of statistics at present. It’s almost like a scoreboard, various universities’ analysis how the growing deaths, country by country. It can get too easy to forget that these numbers represent real people, with real lives, with real loved ones. It is also perhaps too uncomfortable to ponder how awful and painful each of those deaths are, for those left behind, and for that person-statistic the process of such a death.

In mid-March, just as the impact of coronavirus was beginning to make its evil presence felt, I was privilege to see a production at the Exchange Theatre in Twickenham that was to be the last theatre event locally before the lockdown. The Young Writers’ Festival 2020 was a showcase of some of the best pieces of literary work by child and teenage authors, all still school pupils.

This year’s Senior Laureate, drawn from the winners in all categories was James Joseph Hunter, a sixth-former at St. Benedict’s School, Ealing, a school in fact renowned for its literary and dramatic prowess. His vers libre poem, Car Crash has kept returning to my mind in the past few weeks as I think about COVID-19, maybe in the light of my own painful experience of trying to breathe with pneumonia. The lines that seem particularly relevant occur in the middle of the poem.

“I call out to the silent air, to pall me in darkness,
In thick, numbing fog – to constrict me in its coils ‘til
I can’t think, can’t breathe. But life weighs heavily on
My lungs, shackles me like its prisoner.”

Perhaps this is what it is like to die of COVID-19, I muse.

Although this poem, written towards the end of last year, seems prescient, it in fact refers to a death caused by serve chest injuries, to the driver of a car. James Hunter’s poem is full of insight, but what it represents probably took a lot of courage to write, as he has let slip that the poem relates to the true experiences of two people close to him.


Ostensibly written in as one voice, closer examination reveals that there are two people involved, but symbolically one of these may speak in the first or third person. Indeed, the acting company at the Exchange dramatised the poem for an actor, speaking in first and third person, as the dying driver, and an actress, who plays the pain-wracked passenger.

For the passenger, though, as much pain comes from the memory of the accident, as from the crash itself. The sound “still / Roars in my ears and dances in the corners of my mind“, “fervid grief” recalling “the tarmac / Of the motorway scraping against my back.”

The descriptions though of the crash and the effects of the paramedics’ morphine are gut-wrenchingly explicit. Blood tastes “sharp on the tongue”, knotted brains are “stuffed with cotton”, with the morphine “memory is melted … like honey”.  The phrases are beautiful in their horror.

Car Crash is a memorable poem, candid in its exposition, skilled in its expression and brave in its sharing.

Quentin Weiver
April 2020

Photography by J.L McPortach



Car Crash


Deafening crash and all is silent momentarily as
His head lolls lifelessly to one side.
A face contorted with fervid grief is screaming, screaming his name,
But his eyes dart around, his mouth opens
Wide to scream, all his words are blood.
The taste is sharp on his tongue, but his brain is
Dull, stuffed with cotton.

Then the pain pierces through, intense and
Nauseating, and the knots of his brain, my brain unravel…

I call out to the silent air, to pall me in darkness,
In thick, numbing fog- to constrict me in its coils ‘til
I can’t think, can’t breathe. But life weighs heavily on
My lungs, shackles me like its prisoner.

They brace me, strap me- inject the miracle boy to
Halt the truck that ploughs through my dreams, to
Dull my nerves that shriek at every sound.
Until the memory is melted, softened and
Flows like honey to fill up the crater in
The car – to sweeten the taste of blood.

But the sound of forty tonnes of tanker, still
Roars in my ears and dances in the corners of my mind.
And every time I lie down on my bed, I feel the tarmac
Of the motorway scraping against my back.

James Joseph Hunter

Poem reproduced by kind permission of Arts Richmond

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