Jerrold Yam is a law undergraduate at University College London and the author
of three poetry collections, Intruder (2014), Scattered Vertebrae (2013) and Chasing
Curtained Suns
(2012). His poems have been published in more than eighty journals
and anthologies across twenty countries. He has received poetry prizes from the
British Council, National University of Singapore and Poetry Book Society, and is the
youngest Singaporean to be nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He has been featured
at Interrobang, London Book Fair and Singapore Writers Festival. His poems have
been translated to Spanish. (


The answer rests in folded arms.
The answer is always a blue paper bag.
The answer stops vacillating by daybreak.
The answer chokes suquet with olive oil.
The answer knows everything of futility.
The answer. Not how it makes an entrance.
The answer hides a repertoire of brushes.
The answer may be a postcard. Repeat
The answer? Visitors are untangling
The answer with their mouths.

Tell them the orange ocean. Make fear
a nude woman. Two characters are more
likely competitors than companions. Or
the cautionary tale with shadows?
Nothing is uglier than an angle struggling
under the weight of mismatched colours.
Lanterns are exaggerated faces. Be quick
to judge but slow in remonstrance. See
the fruit bowl stepping into a trompe l'oeil?
Follow its lead. Stub your pencil out.

Benevolence is
paint overcoming the cheek
of a palette knife.

The first time I walk into a gallery
I am busy convincing myself
how little you know of perseverance,
that each corridor, carefully lighted
as scented candles, are bridges
interrogating the past to make
a future more bearable. Nobody
would have guessed, the way we
stand as strangers before a painting.
I am thinking of the master's hands,
stippled by pigments and time's
persistent colours—did he
not understand that happiness,
to the unwilling viewer,
is also defeat? Between us,
distance like the silent, awestruck
woodwork between a painting
and her audience. I spot you
at the edges of my eyes, almost
unrecognisable in the crowd,
almost as fresh and unexplored
as we find each other before,
the master setting brush
to pliant paper, becoming more
and more like his fabled creations
in order to lose himself.

Nothing an artist regards is longevity.
When applause fades, paintings shyly
undressing their camisoles of amber
and pearl, the room a whispering cave,
every sound is greater than the sum of
a crowd's intolerant cries. Canvasses
house the scenes which already know.
A brush is a means to an end. When
the clarion coursing through his veins
breathes its last triumph, he will place
the stool in the right corner, away from
light's cruel distortions. And audiences
will take time to interrogate themselves.

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