Artist on Show

He’s clinically alive, the doctor said.
I press in closer, touch the panelled glass,
Watch his glassy eyes stare, hard face set.
It came to me, while seeing him in bed,
Shut in his ward, he needed no palette,
No dyes, no clay to make a showpiece vase.

His blood bad bobs. Some sudden pull of arm
Perhaps? A draught replies He does not budge.
The chart of progress hung upon the wall,
Almost toplit, retains a certain charm,
While doctors’ pickled papers revealing all
Except a fading wish and living grudge

Extol to all their interest in him.
A crumpled bedsheet stiff with him still mocks
His skilful hand and thoughtful mind on show,
Bereft of craft: atrophied, not thin-limbed,
Departed, not alive. And as I go,
I chuck a coin into his trust-fund box.

by Toh Hsien Min
from Iambus (1994)