Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Peace Is Every Step

On a perfect day
in September
I walked with you
in my heart

Every leaf
was calling my name

I am still remembering
until we meet again.


Do you ever do walking meditation? Just one peaceful step today for the young monks and nuns of Bat Nha monastery in Lam Dong province, Vietnam. Why do the police attack the most peaceful members of society? Perhaps because peace brings about true change? These are young disciples of Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings, practising peace. Hospital times make me appreciate the sweetness of freedom even more.

Sunday, 27 September 2009


Well, my bags are packed. And I am off again. This time to a ward with windows. Woo hoo!
My B cells have not stayed depleted for very long, so tomorrow I start a new round of B cell depletion with Rituximab.
I am trying to choose a nice spot for the needle. The cakes have helped, but not enough :)
Please look after this bear.

Friday, 25 September 2009


(landscape by my father, pastels)

Autumn birds
and a sky so blue
I am flying through colour
that soaks into my skin
rich and deep
like balm.

Red leaves
shimmering wet
Once more to dance
Once more transformed
beneath the Painter's brush.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

In the trail of a tree

When I am in the garden, time stands quiet and still. Dried leaves celebrate beneath my bare feet. Bees and flies examine me for size, for harm, and muscle in for some skin. I politely decline, and the scent of green guages invites them elsewhere.

I turn to the trees. Trees make me gracious. How strange to long to travel, and see and touch the new, and yet have loved the same trees, in the same patch of green, for sixteen years.

I have loved other trees, in another garden, in that other world I belonged to. The trees of before were loved differently though. Confidently, posessively, smugly - the way you love a thing you think will never leave you.

Trees know things. What do your trees tell you?

Saturday, 19 September 2009


Sunlight on a broken column
Of skin
Of dry grass and ancient bark
The afternoon draws quietly in;

Down by the silver birch
Mushrooms have melded into earth,
The paper is a script of lines
Old riddles I cannot find;

My fingers seek to solve
The mysteries of braille songs.

Friday, 18 September 2009

An Unaccountable Life

In June, soon after I'd arrived home, I stumbled upon a blog called Poem of the Week. The author of the blog, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had just posted an anonymous poem from Iran. The piece made a deep impression on me; they are haunting words spoken from the rooftops of a country in distress. I remember thinking, wishing, that the piece would stay a while, for me, for others, so we could remember her voice. It seemed wrong somehow that it would become just another poem of just another week. I wanted it to stay - and that is precisely what it did. Months have passed and the author has posted nothing since this poem. Is this an experiment on his part? What has become of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? What of the poet on the rooftop? People still continue to comment on this piece, but mostly to say Come Back! to the vanished blogger. It is a mystery.

Friday the 19th of June, 2009
Tomorrow, Saturday
Tomorrow is a day of destiny
Tonight the cries of Allah-o Akhbar
Are heard louder and louder than the nights before
Where is this place?
Where is this place where every door is closed?
Where is this place where people are simply calling God?
Where is this place where the sound of Allah-o Akhbar gets louder
and louder?
I wait every night to see if the sounds will get louder and whether
the number increases
It shakes me
I wonder if God is shaken

Where is this place where so many innocent people are entrapped?
Where is this place where no one comes to our aid?
Where is this place where only with our silence we are sending our
voices to the world?
Where is this place where the young shed blood and then people
go and pray?
Standing on that same blood and pray?

Where is this place where the citizens are called vagrants?
Where is this place?
You want me to tell you?
This place is Iran
The homeland of you and me
This place is Iran.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Heart of a Woman

What I love most about hospital (there's a first line you never thought you'd read), are the stories of people's lives; the moment of intersection when the life of a stranger becomes forever entwined with your own. Not necessarily in the despairing moments either, but in the long quiet hours of in between.
On my third day on SSSU, I met a tough little Hong Kong Chinese lady. She runs a chippie in Letchworth now despite the rare cancer scavenging her liver. We met just before her biopsy, I wished her much luck, but all the talking occurred in the hours after the biopsy, when pain was at its height.
The way a woman relates her life story in the aftermath can tell you a great deal about her, don't you think? And yet... she can punctuate her story with a pessimistic shrug or an optimistic trill, and still, the heart of a woman remains a mystery. Sui Chim's optimism could have lit a stadium, but she was alone.
Pauline on my left, was 84. An hour after her gall stones were removed, she perked up and invited me to accompany her on a little excursion to the hospital shopping centre. Realising I wasn't quite as fit and healthy as herself, she gave me an encouraging pat, tripped along by herself, and returned, glowing, chocolates at the ready to share. What Pauline loves most about hospital is the company, the chat - at home there isn't even a cat.

I have never had to face hospital entirely alone; but sometimes when I am alone, the courage of other women sees me through.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow

I still have not removed the wrist band from the ward. I always forget, and then cut it off in a dramatic symbolic moment of recognising freedom. Since returning from hospital, I have been watching television a little too avidly - escaping, travelling miles - Gilmore Girls, X factor, Friends, Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember and Antonio Banderas in Take the Lead. The last is a film based on the true life story of Pierre Dulaine, a Palestinian who has brought the art of ballroom dancing into the hearts of inner city school children all across America. Changing ambitions, introducing etiquette, creating gentler connections.

Walking down the corridor past my father's study today, I heard laughter and music. I opened the door to find my parents half-waltzing, half-swinging around the (very small) room. "It's Magic Mix on the radio!" my father grinned, and I watched with a cheesy smile, as I have always done, since memory began. My parents, talking in a dance, just walking in a dance, through this thing called marriage.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Upside down...

I should be walking
on a sky like this
Orange and pink
a candy floss float
Waving goodbye
to leafy green skies
and a girl in a dream
of painfree smiles
and lullabyes.

Hold still and paint this
keep this
for the hurting times
when breezes and birds
fly by unheard
and I am lost
in my upside down world.

(c) Shaista Tayabali
for dverse poets

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Lately I dream

of the dullest things. I long for a simple routine. A package of little tasks, not muddled through, but begun and neatly adieu-ed.
A cup of hot tea drunk politely, a walk through the village (they could set their clocks by me), tidy the dishes, water the plants, converse with the birds...
You may think I do these Littles everyday and anyway, but sometimes the hunger for larger dreams consumes me. World domination, whirlwind romance with Hollywood dish, Poet Laureate of the Hospital Genre, etc etc...
There are no windows on the Surgical Short Stay Unit. It is a box, with blue curtains and friendly wardens. Creamed potatoes for lunch, jam tart with my tea, needle in my writing hand and the life saving Human Immuno Globulins (The Goblins!) flowing through me.
In a place without windows, a girl can learn to dream, but also learn not to believe in her dreams. Dreams without flight. Lately I dream, without flight.

Friday, 4 September 2009

One Buddha Is Not Enough

As many of you know, I am a great admirer and student of the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen Buddhist leader of the Community of Interbeing. The practise of mindfulness has helped me more than any intravenous steroids or immuno-suppressant drug. It came into my life at the darkest point when my left eye was operated on, and the future looked too bleak to bear. Mindfulness is really the practise of gratitude; the knowledge that you can be grateful for your life, in all its uniqueness, is very freeing. It allows you to concentrate on the beauty of a moment without fear, anger, frustration. Gratitude dispels these emotions.
Thich Nhat Hanh, lovingly called Thay or teacher, has been in hospital since my birthday, 21st of August, and I thought I would share part of his letter from hospital, to the Sangha. Going into hospital is going to be pleasant, knowing Thay is there practising in the same environment, and showing me the Way.

Inward to the Bones (a piece about Georgia O'Keefe)

I killed off all sentiment. Did it
for the pictures. It was not allowed
to be an artist and a woman too.
My art had sculpted me, made me
the woman you see.
Something round and warm had to go.
What was left were my bones -
terribly beautiful in a hard desert light.
- from a poem about Georgia O'Keeffe by Emily Braid.

Georgia O'Keefe is an artist both my mother and I admire; not just for her striking art, but also her sheer determination to paint things her own way, despite critique, and isolation, and in the later years, failing eyesight. She was also able to articulate the inner bones of her artistic nature. I love these words:

"I thought someone could tell me how to paint a landscape, but I never found that person. I had to just settle down and try. I thought someone could tell me how, but I found nobody could. They could tell you how they painted their landscape but they couldn't tell me to paint mine."
- from an interview with Georgia O'Keefe, aged 92

- Image: Arnold Newman, 'Georgia O'Keeffe, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico', 1968
Link to further resources on O'Keefe here 

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

The Book of Books

Open the book of life
and look back, and forward
to the places
where the choices were made.

Sit somewhere
in a patch of sun, perhaps

You made the beauty gather
here, and here

And there, where the threads unravel
Lie the mysteries.

I ate my noodles outside today, rain thundering down.. not on me, but around me. Rain washed my cobwebs clean. When they ask you, what did you do with your life? what will you say? Will you say you wrote a poem that won a competition long years ago when you were just a boy and not the consultant of a department who does not (no time to) read poetry any more? Will you tell of the time when the light moved just so and you caught the eye of a stranger to share it? Remember when you practised transcendental meditation and travelled across seas to visit family you hadn't seen in years? What tales will you tell when they ask you about yourself?

Tell a tall tale. And tell it well. The book of life is writing itself, and we have all swung along for the ride. Weave in the fiction, the spice and the glory, the pictures, the sweet dreams, the memories. The book of life is writing itself, books within books, stories without end.