Wednesday 27 April 2011

Bear Hiding Salmon

Below me,
the Canadian Rockies
are eclipsed in snow,
melting to cloud.

A land of stories
that once belonged
to the speakers of a tongue
fallen silent now,
or crooked from misuse -

Centuries of abuse
are framed in museum glass,
Sacred names are spilled
where ancestors used to dance;

Where mountains rise to keep the peace
and trees root down to Salmon's Creek
Bear and Wolf howl with impatience
watching, for moon cycles,
waiting, at Raven's End,
for the world to make sense.

I watched Princess Mononoke yesterday. I have a new heroine! (Wolf Girl! Get it?!) Japanese anime doesn't come better than Hayao Miyazaki. Set in the Muromachi period of Japan, the film centres around supernatural forest spirits and animals battling against humans in timeless cyclic fashion. I think about the eco-warriors of today fighting to protect our planet, and I think about my time in Vancouver, when I felt as though I were walking among ancient tree and animal spirits. This is my poem of that time.

Friday 22 April 2011

Sweet Bird of Youth

The bird of youth flew by this way
and grimaced at my tears
Why do you cry? he seemed to say
The sun is out, summer is here,
and I have come to play.

Sweet bird of youth
you cannot see my fever burn
Nor feel the ache that breaks me
You trill and flit, you dance and turn,
and yawn your boredom away.

- Shaista, 2011
My mother called me 'a glass vessel' in her native tongue this morning. "You are a kanch nu vaasan," she scolded gently. "And you have to treat yourself as such."
You see, I recently attempted a Normal Day. I went to the Fitzwilliam Museum (Italian etchings!! Raphael, Tintoretto, Guardi, Modigliani, Tiepolo, Parmigianino!), ate delicious salty haloumi cheese with my friends at a Turkish joint, and then went swimming, jacuzzing and sauna-ing. Maybe, I thought, who knows, I thought, I've gotta try, thought I.

Mum just brought in a Magnolia from the garden to keep me company through the fever, sore throat, infection. We gaze at each other, the Magnolia and I, wanting exactly the same thing. To break out of our glass vessels, and return to our rightful place in the sun.

Maybe I'll just nip out into the sun for a minute. The fever will still be here when I get back, and after all, it is Good Friday. A day of suffering and joy to come. And anyway, there's to be a Royal Wedding soon...

So.. Happy Easter? :)

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Oranges, Sunshine and a Kalahari Birthday

Paper thin moon at night, tumbling low. Light floods the quiet house. And in the daylight hours, hot yellow daisies, blue skies and the white butterfly. It is April, and all is well in small swatches of life, here and there, across the universe.

On skype, my brother waves his son's pink feet at us, until his sleepy son gives him (and us) a pained, weary look. I suppose it is rather trying being ogled and exclaimed over, across the universe. Father and son yawn in unison. Cry, feed, sleep, be adored, cry, feed, sleep. Be celebrated, on your birthday.

The Other Brother is striding across the Kalahari desert on his birthday. Some sightseeing, more Human Rights work, and an Angel by his side.

A few days ago, I watched 'Oranges and Sunshine' at the Arts Picturehouse. Based on the book 'Empty Cradles', it is the extraordinary work of Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham, who stumbled upon a government organised scheme, deporting English children to Australia, Canada, New Zealand - 150,000 children, from the 17th century until 1976 when the scheme was abolished. Home Children was part of the Whitening of The Empire. And cheaper for the government. It cost £5 a day to care for a child on British welfare, but only ten shillings overseas. Poor single mothers were assiduously relieved of their little boys and girls, who in turn were told their mothers had died, and promised oranges and sunshine in exchange for their compliance in boarding ships and crossing arid scrubland. The governments have now apologised. It took 350 years for that apology, too late for tangible re-unions.

Somewhere in the universe, my brother tucks up my nephew in my knitted blanket. How easily that possessive little pronoun trips off my tongue. My. Three generations of women knitted into that blanket for the fourth to snuggle under.

How lucky am I to know my mother, my grandmother, my great grandmother, my great-great... inspite of the pain, mine is a lucky, lucky life.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Sakura at Dawn

from Seismic_2000 at flickriver
I have missed the flowering
of the cherry tree,
falling petals
rain down on me;

a carpet of white
and mossy green.

I am soaring high
to the furthest trees
with the kissing bees
and the singing birds

watercolour by Tracy Cupitt
and swooping down
with the lowering sky
to brush the earth
with clouds of skirt.

- Shaista Tayabali, 2011

I dedicate this poem to my friend, and Dad's reader, Dr Dawn Owen, who is fighting the good fight in Addenbrooke's as I write. April is opaque outside her window, as 'they' are building extensions; a kaleidoscope of cranes and gravel and tunnels greet her eyes. Not a cherry petal in sight. Biopsy over, fever still, morphine for the pain... "I feel just like a lizard today," she said. "Keep opening and closing my eyes."

Friday 8 April 2011

The Reader

The shapes of my days
are glazed
by other people's walks
and ways;
I hold my pen so
 and ever thus
Shakespeare's quill, or
Woolf at her desk,
or Blake beside his printing press
or Austen stealing time, away,
from household chores, and bores
and sisterliness.

We write to know
we are not alone,
We read, because
we know
they lived and breathed
and fought and scored
in petty, churlish wars.

And won their way
through life and love
while being just as afraid
 as me, today,
as I, who write
but read more,
so much more,
to re-assure my lonely heart
that I can never stand apart
from those that went before me.

- Shaista, 2011

Anne Hathaway in Becoming Jane, 2007
Rudolf Ernest, 'The Reader', 1854-1932

April is National Poetry Month and today, Terresa Wellborn, poet blogger at The Chocolate Chip Waffle, is celebrating my poetry at her waffle house. You met her once before, when I did, last December. Here is one of her creations - she writes in a way that impresses and absorbs me; when I read her I am back at university, awed by my reading of Poets who truly craft and graft into the sublime, and never did I imagine she would cross an ocean to arrive on my doorstep, and wander the cobbled streets of Cambridge with me...


The sky darkens in notes,
I wade into pines gathered like quills,
their evergreen feathers,
their infinite houses. 

They speak nothing of
their windowless wisdom,
their stretch of days,

of standing so long on the same legs,

arms held out in prayer.

They absorb the shock of seasons,
the hail of years rocking down.
I know nothing of their clock tick,
their inched climb, their roots
pulling like a hymn,

--Terresa Wellborn

© 2010 by Terresa Wellborn. All rights reserved.

Wednesday 6 April 2011

The Nun's Story

Last year I had a postcard from my Aunt Raynah, who reads my blog in Bombay, and wrote that I remind her of St Thérèse of Liseux. I love that postcard. Raynah used to be a nun, but decided to re-enter society as a lay person, many years ago; hence her marriage to my uncle.

Today, attached to her own drip, in the chair on my left at the Patient Short Stay Unit, was a lovely Carmelite nun. Irish, from a family of thirteen siblings! She thought I would be shocked to discover she was 'actually' a nun (she was dressed in summery cropped trousers, instead of her habit) but I wasn't. Very little shocks me. Everything interests me. Much surprises me.

This morning, I ran a little late because I was trying to post a poem but the images would not save. Poetry does not need extraneous images, but they delight all the same, don't you find? So I left the piece unpublished, and scurried off to hospital.
The images that failed to save were these, of Audrey Hepburn, photographed by Leo Fuchs, during the filming of 'The Nun's Story'.

My Carmelite nun had never met anyone with Lupus, but knew about its seriousness through this connection: St Thérèse of Liseux had a novice sister called Marie of the Trinity, who apparently suffered much and died from Lupus, and of course smiled beautifully all the while :)
Marie-Louise Castel was 20, in 1894, when she joined the Carmel of Liseux, where Thérèse was mistress of the novices at only 21, and herself died three years later of tuberculosis. Thérèse taught the practise of 'the little way'... anyone who practices the 'spirituality of the smile' can reach heroic heights of sanctity and declare, in spite of great suffering, "No! Life is not sad!"

Are you impressed by my saintly connections?! Am home again now, in case you were wondering. And smiling, but you knew that.

Friday 1 April 2011

Found: A Lost Letter

Today is April 1st, 2011, celebrated around the world by jokes, pranks and general good humour that can go wrong. But what about mysterious happenings? I have the strangest story for you.

Low grade fevers returned a while ago, so yesterday found me at Addenbrooke's Hospital, having a blood test. Outside, I traipsed along with Mum on the way to the car. "Look at that beautiful plant!" says Mum. So I did. And it was, delicate, beautiful, so I stopped, to have a sniff. Mum walked on. Something in the earth beneath the shrub caught my eye. A letter, folded, bright green ink shining through. I looked around, self-consciously, and then (how could I resist a hand-written letter?!), I picked it up, unfolded it, and began to read. It was the final part, signed 'Glen xxx'. A quote by Pema Chödrön, the Buddhist nun, surprised and thrilled me.
"A good writer, Pema Chodron, says about meditation, "Let it be easy." Hmm. Then there's the earthquake, tidal wave etc. Don't know how I'll be able to engage with those who experienced that yet, but I lit a lot of candles yesterday. Always one for you."

I caught up with Mum. "What should I do? Hand it in? But to who?" We were standing near the entrance to Accident & Emergency. Who, in A&E, could possibly have the time or interest? Pondering this, I found my eye drawn again, to the foot of a big jeep parked two cars away from ours. A folded letter, handwritten, green ink shining through!! I looked into the eyes of the driver. He seemed oblivious. I knelt, and carefully curled my fingers around... part one.
"March 25.
Dear Amanda, I got back from Laos last night. I did have a really great time. First time in a tropical country. I stayed with a teacher in a village for 4 nights (no running water - mosquito nets - palm trees - and bizarrely a huge karaoke machine blowing out George Michael in the pouring rain). When I got back to Vientiane..."

Dear Glen, dear Amanda, I have your lost letter, and if by some mysterious interconnectedness you read this, know that I have kept, and will always try to keep, your letter safe. It rained on and off yesterday, yet not a drop of ink smudged. I looked around for you, either of you; I kept thinking someone would snatch the letter out of my hands with a fierce "That's mine, thankyou very much!" but nobody did...