Thursday, 14 February 2019


Who are you, bug of my gut? Why do you wish me to be your home? You have turned my body into a battlefield and I look nothing like a warrior anymore. I am the slain defeated soldier, wishing only for the earth to open and swallow her whole. 

Campylobacter. Another name acquired to add to the list. Did you know it is a common enough bacteria mostly found in poultry? Chicken specifically - factory farmed, sad toxic little chicken... but also the plastic packaging which contains the chicken, and any fresh produce which comes into contact with either. So really, just about anything can host the little devils. Many people in the UK population have had campylobacter chomp away at them for a day or a few days or a week. But the normal body expels the unwanted intruder ... 

Perhaps we should all be vegans but we have developed such a deep and passionate art for cooking throughout the ages and embedded in every culture and nationality, that to erase meat and fish for the sake of the occasional gut attack, appeals to a select few.  We know we contain bacteria within us - just as we ourselves once were bacteria... 

Then there’s your tricky antibody deficient, immuno suppressed lupus patient. 

I had mysterious bouts of sepsis several times in 2017 until this bacteria was finally discovered in my bloodstream - where it should not have been. This is supposed to be a strictly gut bug. We pelted it with IV antibiotics and thought ourselves in the clear. But all through last year I have been trailing behind a sense of weariness, an unwellness hard to define. Was my dosage of Rituximab too low? Too spaced out? Did I need a new drug added in? More steroid? 

I travelled to the East, and seemed on the surface to have managed miraculously well... but every evening and by nightfall I was close to tears with whatever it was that was battling away inside of me. As soon as I returned home from Singapore I went into an exhausted depression under my duvet, and thence into the grip of fierce abdominal pain. Was it my kidneys finally declaring nephritis? I even wondered if I’d had a mini heart attack, so intense was the painful grip.

The psyche of a lupus patient is a horrible fascination. For months now I have felt despair and entrapment at the thought of this being IT. I have always somehow freed myself from the idea that the future is bleak because I will always be ill... but this time around I seem to have less will, less reserves... 

Today is Valentine’s Day and my present is that the medical team have agreed to stop the three streams of antibiotics that were eradicating me with their toxicity. It will take time for my system to clear itself of these drugs ... but the PICC line is still in place so it is hard to believe such a time will come. It will come. Will it?

I could have waited to write an article when light and hope had replaced the nauseating struggle, but this is real too. This in the middle of the thing, this neverending ghastliness that is the nature of this life. Waiting for the energy of hope to pulse within. 

Thursday, 17 January 2019


A radiologist rushes by
in a black wool skirt
splashed across with koi;
red fins, white bellies,
swimming in the creases
as she moves.

The skirt is from a tiny shop
in France; she says this sadly,
knowing she cannot satisfy
my craving for koi
beneath my own fingers,
in friendly wool.

I pass Fiona Sampson’s ‘Orpheus Variation’,
and travel up the long tube
to the topmost floor,
which tucks me away
from apheresis, and other humans,

and I swim
into the closed wards of the infected,
the diseased, worming in to join
the dark night of our souls.

But when the blood moon draws closer,
and blue Monday arrives, I arise
and begin to shed the creature that holds sway;
small sheddings are small victories, these days.
©Shaista Tayabali, 2019
participating in Dverse Poets Pub
(I thought about tacking on a different ending because the hospital did let me out, but only to reveal the next morning that they had found the bacterial culprit, so I haven’t swum to freedom yet. I have a cannula in me and nurses arrive daily to my house to administer antibiotics through a drip they set up. Something is being shed, I have to believe, or else the dark nights will claim me again...)

Wednesday, 9 January 2019


It circles round just as fast
and soon you find yourself 
at the end (the seeming end,

really, just another beginning:
another airport, another birthday,
Easter, Christmas, New Year).

And still the feeling 
of leaving something behind,
but tripping ahead anyway;

each day, each month 
a further clue, on this 
treasure hunt we call life.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2019

Arts and Crafts Corners brought me great joy over Christmas... this one a very reminding spot in the house, even after two of my nieces have tripped across the oceans back to school and friends. The children of my life come and go, I visit and leave... but small creations remain as memory).  

Artist Credits: Various Tayabali-Edwards
Poetry Prompt... Dverse
(P.s. what does the Inside Of Your Brain look like?) 

Monday, 31 December 2018


It wasn’t her tail that broke.
The title was misleading. I’m sorry. It was a broken leg. As clearly stated in her medical record. 

Her name is Emerald. But she was christened Esmeralda in the doorway of her first home. She was born with green boots and bought with love, but sadly her adoptive co-parent turned out to be less than keen.
One day, I walked across the road with my twin nieces and there in the front porch on her way out (little did she know) was the matching duck to my own William (of the blue boots).

My neighbour was thrilled to pack Esmeralda off for a ‘holiday’ and here, in our home, she has stayed. 
Not without incident.
Back to duck surgery.

William lost a boot soon after the arrival of the twins so Emerald is in good company. This is all my fault of course - I ought to be a more responsible duck owner, but it’s Christmas and the New Year is almost upon us and I am just too tired, shattered, exhausted, knackered, whacko blotto, to quote my friend Colette... 
I am hanging on by silver threads and the golden web of imagination. Cob web... I feel old and in need of hibernation. But a new day, a new year, is on its way, and must be attended to. Some energy must be found from somewhere. How? Where?

In friendship. In kindness. In the generosity of spirit and attention.
Are you listening to me?
I am listening.
But do you really hear me?
I am trying.

Samuel Beckett wrote, ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Fail again. Fail better.’ Beckett seems like he was a kind man, with the best of human interest at heart. There is something about growth, new growth, in the old broken parts of us. We break, and we make something... new? Better? Something, anyway,

Neil Gaiman, another kind man, put it like this ... ‘I hope that in the year to come, you make mistakes, because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing the world... So... make new mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life...’

Or ducks with broken legs... or bodies with broken immune systems... on we go, onwards, ever onwards, the old and the new... gathering extraordinary memories. The tale of William and Esmeralda really all began with my beloved friend Mary sending me Jemima Puddle Duck for my birthday in August - a gift of cheer. Mary thought I would appreciate the graceful lines of a duck in pink wellingtons. Well, I did. I do. And so the family grew...

HAPPY NEW YEAR my dearest readers, thank you for the love, concern and the memories. Happy new year to us all xxx

Thursday, 20 December 2018


It’s Christmas time. A time for miracles. A time, I stubbornly insisted, for a real Christmas tree. ‘But the needles,’ my mother said. ‘The mess...’
And even so, she relented.
Just a small one...

Well, actually... in the end we got two. One a nice normal-ish size... she was very fluffy when she came out of her netting as though to say, ‘Here I am! Ta-dah!’ And also a very tiny little fir, you almost have to squint to see her. Except she is a bright green and also had a bit of an air about her, something delightful. Too small of course for the decorations I have laden her with - two serious mice (occasionally sad in a certain light), one smiley mouse and a deer... which arrived from my friend Meme in Australia. A friend who also has a host of 'co-morbidities', like so many of us do... from vasculitis to neuropathy, Crohns to hypothyroidism. Or just the usual... fever, swelling, pain.

We are supposed to thank pain, thank swelling, thank these harbingers, which are the reminders of our body’s needs. If you are in pain, then you are alive, said a friend of mine to me once. He has Parkinson’s and was a fount of hard-earned wisdom. I have always tried to follow his advice. Or at the very least, remember it.

For me, this past year has been very ‘triggering’ as they say. But I think we are all triggered almost continuously? Constant barrage of televised, radio-ised, internet-ised streams of all the desperate stories of our lives across the globe, stories of politicians not really seeming to care, and also stories of people doing wonderfully well with incredible achievements – seemingly superhuman achievements. And some of those extraordinary achievers are people with illness. Take Mary Frey, of The Frey Life channel on YouTube. She has cystic fibrosis and an incredibly inspired following... 

Or Molly Burke, who is a blind YouTuber and also has a hugely inspired following...

And then of course there is Selena Gomez who extended the miracle of her kidney transplant story (donated incredibly enough by her best friend Francia Raisa) by sharing it with the public. I am sure everyone with lupus had friends sending them the viral clips of Selena’s story...

What we rarely hear about are the ordinary folk, you and me, getting by on our own rations of kindness, compassion, courage and fortitude for ourselves and those around us. I believe we need the simple stories to nourish us, to withstand the daily onslaughts of global and internal suffering.

So here we are this Christmas time… and my wish is a simple one. That you feel nourished as this year draws to a close, and that somehow, in some small ways, the miracle finds you and those you love and so spreads on, and on, outwards.

With love,


Friday, 16 November 2018


My father, asleep in an armchair,
breathing in Chopin,

his head resting
on two fingertips.

Silver grey hair,
and a face

gathering thoughts,
before he wakes.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2018

A recent photograph of me and the Chopin listener (taken by our friend Sue Fox), and also one of Mum’s earliest portraits of Dad...  ‘a very quick oil sketch’ is how she describes it... the most talented artists are sometimes the most humble! I love her use of blue, don't you?

Tuesday, 30 October 2018


Either way,
she doesn’t know her ways, yet.
Her mind bends with the remover;
if not to remove,
then certainly pause, edit, pause,
delete, regret the deletion,
ask advice, regret asking advice.

Either way,
she knows her own ways;
her mind, unclear,
is loosely framed by ideals
dear to her.
And so on she moves, on,
ever onwards.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2018
(participating in Dverse Poets Open Link Poetry)

(Painting: Egon Schiele, ‘La Libertad’) 

I did an interview with poet Sherry Marr over at Poets United... a catch up of sorts over long distances and imaginary cups of tea... you can click here to read it ...
Sherry lives in Tofino, on Vancouver Island, a tiny district nestled in the southern heart of Clayoquot Sound... She has been a huge source of friendship and encouragement over the years since I first began my blog. We nearly met last year when I nearly went to Vancouver for my cousin’s wedding and my birthday, but campylobacter in my bloodstream kept me here in Addenbrooke’s Hospital rather than in Sherry’s living room across the pond. I still owe her a basket full of English tea!!!

Tuesday, 9 October 2018


That is a proud name,’ he said.

I am proud of my name.

It is the Rajput name for warriors.
It is the Persian name for poets. 

Am I not then Shaista, the warrior-poet?

I am standing on the battleground,
listing a little,
sword and pen at the ready,
blood and words aplenty.

But I long for sakura,
snow pink petals of my cherry tree.

Oh brief, beautiful one,
wrap yourself around me,

so I can be Shaista, the free.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2018

What does my name mean? My mother always told me it meant courteous and graceful, mostly because she wanted me to be unfailingly polite! But in Pashto, the language of the Afghans, my name means beautiful. An ex-soldier from Afghanistan once commented on my name as we both waited in line at the Apple genius bar! Then my poet friend Kenza assured me it was so... and last week a Pakistani taxi driver, who proceeded to quote couplets by Ghalib (in Pashto) at me.
When I was a child and our class was studying the period of the Mughal empire, and the wars between the Mughals and the Marathas in Indian history, we came across Shaista Khan, the fierce Mughal warrior. So of course my classmates wondered why I had been named after a man!
My own grandfather, though, had never heard of the name; he decided to call me Shy Star after I was born, so he could not fail to  remember the name of his first granddaughter. I use his mnemonic to help people even now, when they struggle to wrap their unfamiliar tongues around my name. 

The illustrations above of Sufi warriors, Sufi dancers, are my own... I've been including them in copies of my poetry collection for friends... I titled the book 'Something Beautiful Travels Far' which I suppose could also read 'Shaista Travels Far'! 

(for 'Poetics: What's in a Name?' a dverse poems prompt) 

Sunday, 7 October 2018


Rudi made me cry. 
I don't cry at or during films anymore, mostly because the varying levels of discomfort my eyes are usually in, make it hard for me to escape entirely into the visual world before me. But the life of Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev contained within a single powerful documentary, All The World His Stage, had me in tears for much of the second half.

Exile is a common enough story for many of us. Voluntary or involuntary. But in Rudi's case he was a pawn of a nation, a government, an ideology that his body and will refused to succumb to. Of course, his defection in Paris in 1961 had nasty consequences for his friends, the 'kitchen culture' crowd, who had, in secrecy, danced and recited poetry and played under the wrap of darkness. But they separated him from his mother, and more than anyone else in his family, I think that may have been the worst of it, though in the end they let him back for the days before her death. They say that although she was failing to recognise anyone else, she knew he had been to see her, but what was that one moment against all the years - the millions of yearnings, and achings for home?

And then there was Dame Margot - La Fonteyn - the substitute mother figure? No, she was more, she was everything to him;  after she died, he had no one; he would call friends before dawn, and say nothing, only cry. She was on the verge of asking her husband Tito for a divorce, and then he got shot, and Fonteyn's mother said how will it look if you don't go immediately to his side? How will it look? Even the greatest prima donna ballerina obeys when her mother says those four sinister words. That was the end of Nureyev and Fonteyn, so said the documentary, although in reality they danced for years afterwards, and stayed close until her death. 

The violinist Yehudi Menuhin called Nureyev a panther. Parkinson asked him to describe how things had been in Russia when Nureyev was a child. 'Bad,' replied the dancer. 'But how bad?' pressed Parky. Because people always want to know how bad, from the safety and comfort of their own lives. Richard Avedon photographed Nureyev's leaps into air as though he were challenging gravity to call him merely human, but Bob Dylan wrote 'No one is free, even the birds are chained to the sky.'  

The documentary was at once the embodiment of freedom and simultaneously a chaining down, a weighing down of things that are bigger than us, wider than we can control. Politics, AIDS. Being called Russian when you are really Tatar, but no one knows of Tatars or their complicated history with Russia...

 Ah... go watch the documentary if you can. Also Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two. Also M.I.A, about the Sri Lankan Tamil English singer and activist Mathangi 'Maya' Arulpragasam. Also, the manager of the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse has promised me the Nureyev poster when the film has finished running... these are moments worth living for.  

Monday, 24 September 2018


I have been meaning to post about my book... a first collection of poems now available to buy on Amazon UK, US and Europe... I'm not sure about Australia, though I would love, for example, my friend Mémé to have a copy (hi Mémé! Will get one to you somehow!). Am working on the Kindle edition for India and Africa... poetry on a device used to seem like an odd idea to me, but my poems have been online in the digital world for almost a decade! So a kindle version seems apt enough.

The book is called ‘Something Beautiful Travels Far’ - the title of my second poem. When I first created the collection with this title in mind I had no idea the book would travel with me across oceans to India, Singapore and Indonesia... I first held it in my hands in hospital (of course) in the Jubilee Garden, my favourite spot at Addenbrooke’s...  then, needle in hand, dreaming of travels and glorying in freedom already achieved... and now, today, back at the hospital, needle in hand... filled with the richest of memories. 

Here is the link to Amazon... in case you feel inspired to buy a copy!  

(the first image and now my blog header was taken by my brother Irfan on Nikoi Island, the tiny eco island in Indonesia where he and Theresa got married - gorgeous photograph, ain't it?!)