This article considers the value of narrative poetry for stories of illness, a form that holds the facts of those stories in creative tension between extension and compression, elaboration and implication, chronological time and the timeless moment. Narrative and metaphor converge there as complementary epistemic devices and empower poets by differently accommodating the complexities of pain. Metaphors become important when they offer patients a way to understand their conditions and when they enable doctors or caregivers to reimagine the patient's experience. One example of a narrative poem that gives shape to illness and loss is Alan Chong Lau's “my ship does not need a helmsman.” It adopts the metaphor of journey to speak about the course of an illness and the prospect of death. The speaker is dying far from home. In short lines the poem creates discontinuities even as it opens long vistas of memory. It enumerates sounds, smells, and objects that give a thick sense of the patient's point of view. A close reading reveals how the poem articulates the emotional complexity of the speaker's sense of impending death—from disgust and loneliness, to homesickness and political apathy, to longing for a woman.

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