Tuesday 30 June 2009

Grammar School

Waiting in the queue
for the bus that never comes
I am pondering the aesthetics
of the modern English tongue.
Speak, and thou shalt be spoken to
only if you can
fail to enunciate
with the pride of the Common Man.

A strange re-learning this,
undoing years of elocution
to master colonial linguistics
for a post-colonial re-education!

I am trying to remember
to forget the t's
and slash the g's
off the end-in(g)s
I am gathering together
a homeless family
of split

Monday 29 June 2009

A Tale of a Lost Tail

Owl lived at The Chestnuts, an old-world residence of great charm, which was grander than anybody else’s, or seemed so to Bear, because it had both a knocker and a bell-pull. Underneath the knocker there was a notice which said:
Underneath the bell-pull there was a notice which said:
These notices had been written by Christopher Robin, who was the only one in the forest who could spell; for Owl, wise though he was in many ways, able to read and write and spell his own name WOL, yet somehow went all to pieces over delicate words like MEASLES and BUTTEREDTOAST.
Winnie-the-Pooh read the two notices very carefully, first from left to right, and afterwards, in case he had missed some of it, from right to left. Then, to make quite sure, he knocked and pulled the knocker, and he pulled and knocked the bell-rope, and he called out in a very loud voice, “Owl! I require an answer! It’s Bear speaking.” And the door opened, and Owl looked out.
"Hallo, Pooh," he said. "How's things?"
"Terrible and Sad," said Pooh, "because Eeyore, who is a friend of mine, has lost his tail. And he's Moping about it. So could you very kindly tell me how to find it for him?"
"Well," said Owl, "the customary procedure in such cases is as follows."
"What does Crustimoney Proseedcake mean?" said Pooh. "For I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words Bother me."
"It means the Thing to Do."
"As long as it means that, I don't mind," said Pooh humbly.

from A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh (1926). Drawing by E. H. Shepard

Sunday 28 June 2009


Without you, there is no sleep
With sleep, there is no you
With you... would I sleep?

You are haunting
my waking hours
You are becoming real
far too soon for me
You who are not really you
but a figment of me.

I dreamed you
and you woke before me
And when I fell asleep again
you stayed awake beside me.

And you?
What are you thinking?
I forgot to ask -

- Shaista

Friday 26 June 2009


The things you wanted
to do today
Did you do them?
Lying in bed in the early hours
you had something to say
Did you say it?
Today when the sun shone
and you smiled
Did you look behind
at yesterday's self
who was crying?
But you don't know why,
you cannot remember.
It was all so long ago
and you are new,
brand new,

- Shaista

Thursday 25 June 2009

Girl Hungry

"We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world."
Helen Keller (1880-1968)
Yesterday I posted a poem about regrets. I wrote it at 3am on Monday night, a sort of companion piece to the cake event, as both experiences were prompted by my medical ophthalmologist's latest assessment of my eyes. I know I have a cataract, and glaucoma, and a Molteno tube and damaged optic nerves and a ten year old trabeculectomy bleb which Dr Meyer (a ring wraith from the dark side if ever there was one), thinks has had its day. But I cannot think of these things, and be happy. So I choose happiness. After delivering his morbid verdict ("Hmm, may require needling"), he peered suspiciously at me and said, "You don't look worried." I flashed him a sunny smile, and said I was done with fear, and worry... and he said, (and I am gritting my teeth as I write this), "The Rituximab must be working as an anti-depressant then"... He was joking. Of course, he must have been joking. But I wanted to bite him! Here am I, passionately embracing the Brave and Cheery path, and there is he, the doctor, congratulating the medicines!
My friend Nergish, asks an interesting question in her comment on the cakes, "Do you think people have different capacities to enjoy experiences?"
Perhaps the answer lies in our experience of suffering. My experiences seem to have left me, not brave and patient and Helen Kellerish so much as hungry. I want to eat life, not in slices, but in great galumphing feasts. I do not want a life of regrets, but I am glad I write of them now. Once I write a thing, it ceases to be insurmountable. And in time, may cease to be a thing to regret at all.

Wednesday 24 June 2009

The Toll Bell

I regret
not going to the places I want to know
Waterhouse at the Royal Academy
Carmen at the Corn Exchange
Oita in summer
with my brother and his girl
Barbecues and canapes
with friends who live miles away.
If I should die (not tomorrow)
but soon,
I regret
no punts on a lazy afternoon
drifting by colleges
I do not belong to -
but that surely belong to me
in some Circadian fantasy?
I regret
twelve long years of Monsoon
unseen, unfelt, unheard, unreal
to me
who once knew the rhythms of her city.
I regret
not playing the piano, the cello, the violin
I do not regret
lullabies my mother used to sing
to soothe my insomniac self
at five and eight
and now,
when we share this hell
of not knowing
what is to come, and
what will be lost,
and worst of all,
playing the What If game -
I regret that
most of all.

Monday 22 June 2009

In the stardust of a cake (or ten)

After two hours at the eye clinic today, and not very happy news, I decided I needed cake.
So I dragged my mother into town, and sloped off to Starbucks to stock up. After a moment of pure dedicated concentration, I indicated to one of the girls behind the till that I was ready, and started pointing: "Two coconut and raspberry, two lemon valencia..etc". Before I could get to the chocolate decadence, the till was being rung up. Before the chocolate! So I interrupted, politely but firmly, and asked for two chocolate slices too - I was given the oddest look!
I moved over to the till, and asked, "Is this shocking?" and the girl said "Er...yes. We've never had anything like this happen."
I was just buying cake!
I sat at a corner table, waiting for the cakes, feeling like I had to explain myself. So when another girl came up with the bag (a very big bag), I mumbled something about being in hospital, and craving cake, but she cut right across with "They aren't all for you though, are they? You aren't going to eat them BY YOURSELF??"
I thought, what the heck, and grinned blissfully at her. "Yes," said I. "Yes. Yes. Yes!"

Saturday 20 June 2009


Shadows appear
in doorways, along walls
are limned
in uncertain edges
Shoulders hunch
against other falls.

What has come to be.

Colours melt
and fade away
An ancient artist's palette,
Tears would only
further blur
And ghosts may suddenly

A haunting life,
half dim, half light
of some blues
and mostly green.

What has come to me.

- Shaista

Tuesday 16 June 2009

The falling leaves, drift by my window...

Do you ever feel
like autumn
though it is summer
in full bloom?
Like smiling at the sun
but watching for the moon?

Waiting for the cool
though your body loves the heat,
Living for tomorrow
when now
is beneath your feet.

Monday 15 June 2009

The Heart of Love

There are not many hearts, but one heart only...
quick, eager, glad, alive,
forever acting strongly and serenely,
inviolate, single, whole... the heart of love.

- from 'Change of Heart' by Peter J. Henniker Heaton

In response to my last post, a childhood friend wrote the loveliest of compliments - so lovely I have to share it with you!

Shaista, from reading your poetry, and from hearing all about the troubles you've faced, your courage, and your will to keep on fighting (or rather, because I find that word too violent - loving), I would say that you are already very much in the midst of a great and true love. You seem to be in love with the world, with new life in the spring, with the way the evening falls in your back-garden, with bees that bumble into photographs and things of that sort. You seem to be in love with life and with each new day and the hope it may bring, and perhaps even in love with all the sadness it may bring, because you have accepted it in a way.

Perhaps that's why your heart races so fast--not a medical condition--but a symptom of something greater--an unbearable love for life bursting to get out. You should be proud of that great love inside you, and continue to give it to the world.

Isn't that just the highest and best of compliments?! Thanks Rustom! And thankyou to all of you who read and comment on my blog, and inspire me to live and love and be happy.

With the heart of love,

Saturday 13 June 2009

Le Chaim!

June 13. A Saturday. A week since the last medical intervention. I have a problem called tachycardia, which literally means fast heart, a racing pulse. There is nothing that can be done about it, but it does make me think about life and death resting within the beats of our heart. I once asked a doctor if my heart would get tired soon, tired of beating so fast, so furiously; he just smiled, and shook his head.
Do you ever think about your heart? Working away, unnoticed most of the time. Sometimes a shock of adrenaline sets up awareness, sometimes we pat our heart comfortingly, but unless you can hear it, really hear and listen to it, the heart remains a metaphor.
Today I realised there are two Holy Grails in my life. The first is this elusive vision of getting Better. What does it mean? Will I ever know it? And the second is the even more elusive finding of True Love. All around me friends are getting married, celebrating anniversaries and births of babies, job changes, lifestyle changes. And it fascinates me - how do people find one another? The true find of your life.
In the meantime, while I listen to my heart, and follow the mysteries of the Holy Grails, and wonder about death, I am learning several ways of saying "Live!"
Jeannette St Germain over at mysteries has taught me 'Le Chaim', which is Hebrew for "to life!" A Ghanaian nurse on the ward taught me "Obanye Ofi!", in Korean it is "Aja!" and Japanese "Gambatte!"
Come on Shaista!
If you know any other words of encouragement in any other languages - teach me!
Love to all...

Image: 'The Holy Grail' by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Thursday 11 June 2009

Lullaby to a Weeping Willow

into the soft curve
of waiting
moonlight nestles
dawn sings a lullaby
and the fullness
of another hour
round with emptiness
calls my name

one foot forward
one lingering still
neither belongs

into the creeping morn
past the sleeping night
the breeze outside
blows nothing in
the trees keep
their secrets.

Monday 8 June 2009

A Lazy Hazy Day in June

How peaceful the world
before tomorrow manifests

and hazy
and calm;

June begins with
an obvious charm
and sensuous,

the evening balm.

Image: from our garden. I never saw the bee, he just zoomed right into the picture!

Thursday 4 June 2009

A Little Bit of Jack Johnson

I want to be where the talk of the town
Is about last night when the sun went down
And the trees all dance
And the warm wind blows in that same old sound
And the water below gives a gift to the sky
And the clouds give back every time they cry
And make the grass grow green beneath my toes
And if the sun comes out
I'll paint a picture all about
The colors I've been dreaming of
The hours just don't seem enough
To put it all together
Maybe it's as strange as it seems
And the trouble I find is that the trouble finds me
It's a part of my mind it begins with a dream
And a feeling I get when I look and I see
That this world is a puzzle,
I'll find all of the pieces
And put it all together, and then I'll rearrange it
I'll follow it forever
Always be as strange as it seems
Nobody ever told me not to try
Always try...
Always try...

Lyrics: Jack Johnson 'Talk of the Town'
Image: Marc Chagall's 'La Mariee'

Back into hospital tomorrow. Second monoclonal infusion. Am burning with fever every night. I want to be where the talk of the town is about last night when the sun went down... tra la la...

Tuesday 2 June 2009


Nobody needs to know
I am a hundred and four degrees
in bed with the summer sun
feeling silly.
Bad dreams and baking thoughts
freeze me out of happiness
and pain is filtering in
disguised as sunbeams.

Who understands this wandering soul?

Nobody needs to know
The secrets of an ailing heart
trapped in a body
with a plan of its own.
Can I be afraid of me so easily?
Soon the fever will go
And love will find me,

Love that will filter in
disguised as sunbeams.