Sunday 31 July 2011


We make our way
We make our way
down dusty roads
to oases

where green pastures
await our souls
and love reminds us
we have miles within

and love reminds us
we have miles within.

- Shaista, 2011
a travelling poem for Gordon Ramsundar, who crossed over from earth to sky, and left only love behind. And for my brother and sister, travelling back from famine and drought and the revolutionary spirits of Somalia and Cairo... home to oases of love.

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Scintillating Scotoma (Firework in my Eyes)

Klimt's Fulfillment, 1909
Let me see
if I can make
poetry out of this
Let me see
if I can whisk
fear out of this

Scintillating Scotoma -
I like the way it fits
the visual fire,
the zig zagging
shimmering quagmire
of this.

Hold still,
my whirling dervishes,
so I can count you,
             claim you,
             calm you
Hold still,
so I can draw you,

We aren't the first
to do this.

- Shaista, 2011

Remember I told you I was having a funny time with my eyes? Last evening, I had an MRI scan to check my brain wasn't harbouring anything illicit. Lying in the white tube with earmasks on, warned kindly by the radiographer that "It will be very noisy!" I thought about Amal. (I wrote her a poem last year called Crossing Borders). I realised that all children of Gaza and other war torn areas, who have shrapnel discovered by MRI scans, lie in just this tube, listening to just this machine gun fire exploding near their head. How doubly, horrifyingly scary for them.
Thinking about Gaza perhaps didn't exactly help, because post scan and dye injection, I had a bit of a turn, and it was all oxygen masks, canula in my vein, briskly wheeled off to A&E. But then... aha! The emergency doctor on call lit up when he discovered he could write POET in his notes, as he had, of late, been craving poetry. Naturally I recited a couple of poems (the one about my mother holding the steering wheel, and the one about the team of medical 'ologists haunting me - he liked that!), and then, as a treat, the doctor responded by letting me see the mind bending technology of my MRI images. I look a weird little alien in X ray language!! Think I'll stick to poetry :)

Thursday 21 July 2011

A Bird Called Exceeding Joy Rang My Doorbell

On the way home from hospital, Mum says casually, "We had guests. But you'll never guess who." Unsurprisingly, I couldn't guess, seeing as I had never met them before, and neither had my parents. A parcel intended for me, had found its way to another village. The lady of the house had signed for it, without looking at the name, since she had been expecting a parcel from her son. When she finally noticed 'Tayabali', she felt dreadful, and hustling her husband into the car, drove straight over. (I was hooked up to the IV, meanwhile, unaware of all of this). "Anyway," continues my mother, clearly enjoying herself, "they brought a parcel... a large parcel!" I hurtled into the house, and flew about the rooms, one by one, until my mother, feeling sorry for me, led me upstairs. There, on the doorstep of my (very untidy!) room....
For those of you who have been following my blog since its inception, you will know of my dear friend, the artist, Jeanne-ming Brantingham, who creates art on Wu Fung Road... We have never met, and I rang her for the first time while ripping into her gift. Here is the inscription on the back of the canvas...
No one knew that Miss T'ang wrote poetry deep into the night except for her close neighbor Mrs Hao, who could hear the faintest musical murmur drifting to her open window. She would stand straining to hear the beautifully crafted phrases and her heart soared each and every time she heard her young neighbor reading her poetry aloud to herself.
Frequently Hao Tai Tai stole across the alley bearing a pot of Jasmine tea. "Dear friend," she would whisper as she let herself in to T'ang Shiao Jye's study, "would you mind to read me that last poem again; the one about flying free?"

You can call me T'ang Shiao from now on, if you like :) Exceeding Joy is the name of the little bird popping excitedly out of his cage, to join us in a pot of Jasmine tea... I cannot believe I have my very own Jeanne-ming Brantingham painting... Now to find the perfect spot!

Wednesday 20 July 2011


(Am heading into hospital again this morning for the second round of Rituximab. The sun is shining shyly, with no hint of what the day may bring. I am scoffing porridge and posting this poem, which I read aloud on radio... my fellow guest responded very hearteningly to it - by shedding tears! Thankyou for 'feeling' the poem Laurence!)

The hours are greater now,
they reach past four and five and six.
The loss is greater now
I've tasted each sweet kiss
of faith, of peace,
of truth, of bliss,
and seen through all the dreary mists
of teams of all the 'ologists.

Radio and Cardio,
Neuro and Nephro,
the Opthalmols
and the Rheumatols,
the Oncols
and the On Calls

and just for larks, the Dentists,
the Pharmacists, the Specialists,

and still I insist
upon the breaking of the dawn,
this Warrior, this poet,
this Shaista must exist.

- 2011

Saturday 16 July 2011

The Ministry of Magic

I did. I read every one of the Harry Potter adventures. I cried and laughed, and did every thing you are supposed to do when you believe. Faith, when it is being written by a skilled author, requires only that you keep reading.
Perhaps it is exactly that simple with life.

In the summer of 2008, J.K. Rowling gave a commencement address for Harvard's graduates, in which she revealed the real secret to success: her speech was entitled 'The Fringe Benefits of Failure'. It is not just her books, but the author herself, who inspires faith.

Recently I learnt of two people who, for various reasons, came to a point in their life when they could no longer read fiction. They just could not believe in the story. The made-upness of it all. And, lately, the same shadow has been casting its grouchy little net over me. I cannot remember the last story I read, all the way through, with belief. The news is too real. The ready streaming tweets and updates and instant global imagery is a too powerful reminder of our extraordinary desire for awareness and our equal helplessness.

I want to know the truth, the true state of things. And I want magic, equally. I want an elder wand for invincibility, an invisibility cloak for crossing borders safely and a healing stone of resurrection from pain and suffering.

Then again, maybe I have them all. Maybe this life of mine is magic, just as it is. We come to our own rescue, don't we? Onwards, Shaista Potter!!
friendship...where magic really begins...

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Money Talks

Money drives by,
it never hitches a ride

Money suns itself
under an umbrella

Money counts
but never sees
an avenue of trees

Money buys
but is never pleased.

- Shaista, 2000

participating in One Shot Wednesday

Sunday 10 July 2011

A Lullaby for Theresa

Lullaby, and good night,
My darling delight

Bright angels stand around
My darling shall sleep

They shall keep
thee from harm
Thou shalt wake in
my arms

So lullaby, and good night
My darling delight.

My mother used to sing this lullaby to us when we were little. It is sung to the tune of Brahms' Lullaby, but I think Ma made up her own words ;) I was trying to teach Theresa the words while she was here, but I realise now that there aren't any particular words... just a mother's prerogative to lull her baby to sleep. And a baby's prerogative to hear what she likes... I always thought Mum was singing, "Thou shalt twake in my arms"... but my mother vehemently denies this; 'There's no such thing as Twake!" she says now...
Do you remember a lullaby from your childhood? Go on, hum it... I'm listening, and so is Theresa :)

Friday 8 July 2011

Happy Birthday Dr T!

Last year, on my father's birthday I wrote a post called The Cloths of Heaven. It began, 'On his birthday, my Father says his wishes have come true...', but knowing that he had always wanted five children, I wrote, 'one more marriage should do the trick'; never imagining that a year later, with one more marriage around the corner, my father is about to have his dream five children. (Dear Husband-to-be, you don't quite seem to be included in this accounting. Sorry about that.)

One son and future daughter, just walking the cheetahs, in Africa, you know how that goes...
One son and daughter, just, oh you know, hanging loose with your grandson...
And me, freshly B cell depleted from hospital, tag still on wrist, returned home to find my mother had (clearly) missed me so much she started a new portrait... it's very faint still, only two days old... but maybe now Dad, if you could just add the sixth child to your wishings and hopings, I might snag him with this work-in-progress! Although why do I have the sneaky suspicion that your birthday wish will involve a second grandchild instead?!!
Ah well. Happy Birthday Dr T! A happy birthday indeed.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Self in a Telephone Box

All around the country, the legendary red telephone boxes are dwindling out of use. In my own sparky little village, we have two - one of which contains a terrifying effigy of some sort.. not quite sure who he is supposed to represent. He scares me. Someone stuffed him in years ago and although he doesn't quite fit, he looks real enough...

The other telephone booth contains me! Well, sometimes. It is a sweet library, available to all. Take a book, put a book in its place, and write a post-it on the glass wall requesting anything particular... I asked for more audio books and lo and behold there they were a week later. It is all very mysterious and exciting enough for me :)

Am pootling off into hospital this morning for my next rounds of chemotherapy infusion - so I may stop by the red box on my way to Rituximab...

Toodle-oo! Wish me luck xx

photo credit: Elenice Tamashiro

Monday 4 July 2011

3 Question View: A Second Interview

A few weeks ago I was asked by Yearning for Wonderland blogger, Anna Meade, if I should like to be interviewed about writing poetry... and since I had such a splendid time with Sherry for Poets United, I naturally said yes! Anna's is a new blog, so perhaps you could visit her - she included three of my poems and a chirpy photo of my Self Among the Geraniums; here is the truncated interview...

I'm quite envious of your delicate touch with words. You conjure evocative imagery with just a stanza. What brought you to poetry as a way of expressing yourself? In your writing, how do you feel about the economy of poetry versus the expansiveness of prose?

The art of economy is a discipline I learned at university. Up until then, I had been a fairly indulgent prose and poetry writer. My composition of language was often deeply emotive, highly subjective and heavy with the influence of romance and Keatsian turns of phrase. Often, but not always. There has also been a trend in my writing, since childhood, towards describing a snapshot visual, and towards epiphany. I began university with the shadow of a complex illness already threatening to obscure me, so I was determined to excel.

This proved difficult for two reasons - I liked to answer questions in my own merry, meandering way, and I did not know how to edit myself. My Professor, Simon Featherstone, taught me this: "The line that you are most attached to, is the line that has to go!" In learning precision, I learned economy. And I think, perhaps, my poetry has begun to adapt to my rather fragile body. These quick brushstrokes of poems serve me well in and out of hospital.

Delicacy aside, though, sometimes I yearn to write a tome in the style of Tolstoy; an epic blockbuster of a novel packed with 108 Dickensian characters. Yearning is what we artists and writers do best!

When you begin writing a poem, do you focus on an image? A phrase? A song? What inspires the act of picking up the pen?

A line comes to me. I focus on a few words, a phrase, that forms the first line of the poem-to-be. Blog posts require titles, which I often enjoy for their brevity, but my poems never used to have titles. Do poets think of titles first? When do the titles come? I prefer the idea of that first line being the clue to the poem. My inspiration as a poet is simultaneously influenced by the subtle and the obvious. Hospitals are waiting rooms filled with both.

Two artists who have influenced my work are my parents; they paint their lives in very different ways. Father's watercolours are mysterious, floating worlds, echoes of Turner and Monet, impressionistic; my Mother's work is magnified detail, bright, strong, clear - O'Keefe comes to mind. Father talks in riddles, Mother is incredibly literal - I flit between worlds in my life, and make sense of it all when I write.

I love 'The Year of Yes'; it's deeply inspirational. It speaks of great positivity, despite the challenges you face with lupus. How has keeping your positive energy and happiness been instrumental to your life and your writing?

Have you read Victor E. Frankl's 'Man's Search for Meaning'? He says, "Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it." I marry this idea with the engaged Buddhism teachings of mindfulness, and try to achieve 'Happen-ness'. Living in the now, the here and now, is not easy with a sneaky systemic illness like Lupus. Lupus is an embodiment of many human fears: the What-Ifs and the If-Onlys. So the secret to happiness is being present for the happen-ness, the saying Yes! in gratitude for our ability as humans to be present.

My friend Dr. Ho tells me to embrace pain, particularly the physical manifestations of it, because feeling pain means you are alive! And he is right - physical pain does not exclude twinkling eyes, sparkly smiles and the playful impulse to tease and be teased. The act of writing is instant happen-ness for me. Just holding the pen, the feel of my book of poems, the moment of connection between the physical materials and my soul, my thoughts, my sight... yes! yes! yes! It is the best of me.

Imagery: Kitagawa Utamaro, Dr Tayabali, Perveen Tayabali