Tuesday 31 December 2013


So this is morning,
this grey wetness?

The Christmas lights
stay on all night
and the clocks
tick in the new year.

The willow looks ancient
this morning
Each leaf paid for in full;
Spring seems a long way
from calling
these weeping brown strings
her home.

Will the world look different
Will the earth be greener?
Will love be truer?
Will I find my way

(c) Shaista, 2013

Wednesday 25 December 2013


Do you remember when I wrote about my poems being worked into glass by a glassworks artist? The person who suggested my name was a poet herself, living and writing in Oxford - Dorothy sent me the poem below as a Christmas greeting. It's so lovely I know she won't mind me sharing it with all of you...

Rolling a snowball
Utagawa Kuniteru (c.1830-70)

Snow rabbit

Why always snow men?
Why the A, the B, the C of snow?
Round the corner
someone is building an enormous rabbit,
funnelling its ears,
poking in twigs for whiskers,
and clearing a patch
of grass in front of its nose.       

Outside the King’s Arms
they’ve stacked up a snow giraffe,
and the lake in the park is full
of the dangerous whiteness of swans
beautifully sculpted on thin ice,

down to the last letter.

© Dorothy Mccarthy

Carl Larsson (1890-1919)
In Singapore, my brother and sister are witnessing the falling in love of a new generation with the old magic of Christmas… snow in Singapore!!
Elaborate mangers…

And Santa too, no doubt, bursting in with his reindeers to a soundtrack of Walt Disney's Fantasia… I shall be contented this Christmas Day, imagining Rafi's excitement, and eat my Christmas cookies, baked by a loving friend, with gusto…


Tuesday 24 December 2013


The wind is a howlin' tonight and although snow might not greet me tomorrow morning, I wonder how the trees will fare… this year I don't feel properly Christmassy (whatever that ought to feel like when you are no longer a child and the news confronts us with climate change and animal welfare and human rights horrors), and it was only when my beloved friend Mary sent me the poem below, that I felt a little comfort…


       This was the moment when Before
       Turned into After, and the future's
       Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.
       This was the moment when nothing
       Happened. Only dull peace
       Sprawled boringly over the earth

       This was the moment when even energetic Romans
       Could find nothing better to do
       Than counting heads in remote provinces
       And this was the moment
       When a few farm workers and three
       Members of an obscure Persian sect
       Walked haphazard by starlight straight
       Into the kingdom of heaven

                                                      U. A. Fanthorpe

This was the year of the death of a great leader, and in my smaller world, births of a future. Christmas was meant to be about birth and those three members belonged to my people's obscure Persian sect - truly obscure, because nobody ever seems to know the Three Wise Men were Zoroastrians! I like to think of those obscure gentlemen, walking haphazardly, guided only by starlight, (and what else would one want to be guided by?) straight into the kingdom of heaven. Those last two lines? My idea of heaven...

IMAGES FROM THE MAG: The Ice Cutters, 1911, Natalia Goncharova
                                                 Madonna With the Milk Soup, 1510, Gerard David 

Tuesday 3 December 2013


A little boy sits opposite me,
 absorbed in a game,
on a gadget I do not own,
 for which I have no name.

He kicks his heels up,
 (only his toes reach the ground);
in the chair beside him, his mother sleeps,
 curled, legs raised far above the ground.

He calls out to her,
 when he hits a particularly high score;
she jolts awake, unseeing,
 then falls back to sleep once more.

She is my sister, in this place
 where the needles preside;
it heals me with an aching love,
 to see her son never leave her side.

© Shaista, 2013

There are angels everywhere. I saw one in the little boy opposite me. I wrote the poem half-way through my infusion (and hers), but afterwards, I took some cake across to him. A friend recently celebrated his birthday and since I was too fatigued to attend, he dropped by some petit fours this morning. Thankyou Simon! The nurses enjoyed some first (by 7:30pm they were flagging as much as I was) and then I walked over to the angel. He took only one piece, even though I cajoled him to take more, and he spoke so sweetly and gently while his mother looked on and smiled. We suffer from similar conditions and exchanged the usual wry affection, each as tired as the other, and I thought of kneeling before them and reciting my poem, but my brother was waiting to pick me up and so I walked away on a wish of luck and hope and friendship postponed. I think the little boy would have liked 'his' poem, but the cake was poem enough.
I am working on my memoir, slowly, but with great determination - the chemo/monoclonal infusion takes eight hours and I write and create and connect across time with poets and like minds - today, Tupac Shakur, who, at 18, rhymed soulfully in journals that resemble mine.

first image from The Mag

Wednesday 27 November 2013


There she weaves by night and day…
She has heard a whisper say
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be
And so she weaveth steadily…

"I am half-sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.

- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I am half-sick of shadows too… Twenty years this month, since I last spent Christmas in India, where cotton wool replaced the snow on the fir tree outside our bedroom window (we could only ever reach the first layers of branches, so the tree always looked extremely strange and wonderful). This Christmas I don't want to think about commerce and duty, only the memory of the Red Cross choir who would come to sing for each house on our street, and for the candles lit and mangers built in every department of the hospital where my father consulted. Simpler times, authentic times - Santa was fun but not the essence. Jesus was, and so was light and hope...

Image from The Mag: Autumn on the River, 1889, John Singer Sargent

Friday 15 November 2013


My eyes dance,
my soul trembles
my nerves collapse under the strain -
I close my eyes,
the dancer whirls,
I seek her limbs in vain -

Hold on to me! I cry,
but she will not settle down
She scintillates and obfuscates -
until, exhausted, dissipates
and I am sane and still again,
and I am sane once more.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2013

I wrote about my scintillating scotomas two years ago (I called that poem Firework in My Eyes). Once, it happened just before my nephew's baptism, while I was in the church and all I could do was hold on to the chair and trust that I would see again. They begin as spots of flickering lights which devour my visual field in shimmering arcs or teichopsia (from the Greek for 'town hall' because of the zigzagging patterns of fortified walls)... 'Don't look at the light,' suggested a doctor. As well tell me 'don't breathe'. How can I survive without looking at light? The scotomas are temporary events. They pass, and I am left with a classic migraine with aura. Is it neurological? Is it cardiovascular? Or simply rotten luck?
To be a writer, you have to write. The words take time to form themselves. I am trying to write, trying to earn my place, but I am struggling so much to keep the faith. I am never lost entirely to self pity, but I do fear uselessness. As a daughter of artists, however, there is one anchor I use to keep myself afloat: in all the murk, I am always able to determine colour. And that thought cheers me even as I swipe at the dervishes to keep still...

All paintings by Degas, but the first prompted by Magpie Tales

Wednesday 6 November 2013


Some days when the spirit
of the laughing Buddha is still,

the clouds gather ominously
and we shelter each other;

I am waiting for light
to pour though me.

I am always turning away
and towards prayer;

will faith ever hold me

One single terrifying moment
of divinity is all;

the days are sand and sea
and we know nothing.

(c) Shaista Tayabali, 2000

First image from The Mag 
The artist, Sir Stanley Spencer, was famous for the religious motifs in his paintings, but equally so for being true and loyal to his hometown Cookham in Berkshire where he was regularly seen pushing a pram which held his easel and canvas, and for wearing pyjamas under his suit if he was cold! I've done that sometimes - surely the mark of an artist?!!
Second image from Gregory Colbert's Ashes and Snow collection, which surely is a form of divinity.

Thursday 31 October 2013


The trick or treaters have been thin on the ground for some years now that we are grown and flown. But when I caught wind from my Canadian cousin of the thing you are meant to do to entreat the treaty hunters, I inveigled my sister Angelina to get carving...
She is truly artistic and gleefully carved into that pumpkin, slicing and dicing his teeth with swashbuckling finesse...
I placed him by the foot of the willow tree, under the lantern. Sweets at the ready, inside the door, and I felt sure the calling card would entice, even though my mother was completely without faith - "They won't come," she foretold gloomily, "they never come anymore"...

But within minutes of our sniggering, smirking pumpkin lighting up the street, the doorbell rang!

I've lost count of the number of children who have rung the bell, in droves, others hot on their heels...but my favourite little Halloweeners are the nieces, dressed as pumpkin and bones...
(The doorbell just rang while I was preparing this post - a young girl, not vamped in blood, scars and gore, but looking for someone named Rosie...who apparently definitely lives here... the same address! Her ghost maybe?? Spooky!!)

Sunday 20 October 2013


The most important thing, when you are terribly late, is to make an entrance...
Masked warrior is my best bet tonight at the 6th Annual Willow Manor Ball, where festivities have been swinging for hours already and Tom Hanks has probably already swiped all of the caviar dressing. It helps the Warrior Style (I feel) to turn up without a date, for how can a mere man compete with this vast crinoline silhouette (no room for him in the doorway!)... 
This haute couture robe à la française is the Maria-Louisa for Christian Dior by John Galliano, and I know exactly what you are thinking... you were expecting butterflies and a riot of autumnal colour, but mes amies, that's where the shoes come in... Sophia Webster is a genius!
The hostess, Lady Tess Kincaid, is celebrating her birthday in blush pink so my gothic attire will not compete with her effect and in any case, she's been at the Guinness a while so hopefully she will simply throw her arms around me as Miloš Karadaglić heats up the floor with 'Libertango'...

The real reason I didn't bring a date is because I heard Billy Collins might be here tonight - Tess introduced me to him years ago and the thought of hearing him recite 'I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey's Version of Three Blind Mice' is thrillin'. He is a former Poet Laureate, and subverts the usual idea of a poet - he is witty, droll, simply magnifeek... Here he is reading for the Obamas - the video is unclear, but the words are all that matter...  
Someone is playing Autumn Leaves, moonlight fills the Scioto (I'm in Ohio, of course) and I all but forget that I can only see out of one eye (naturally I am wearing a black lace patch over my left eye). Seamus Heaney is wooing Tess beneath the trees, and I walk alone by the banks, thinking of the Native Americans who once made their home here and for the slaves who escaped the antebellum - the Scioto meant freedom. I feel no pain, only the sheer blissful relief that comes with imagination and the magic that creates virtual worlds of friendship and beauty. Happy birthday Tess! It's time to dance in the spirit of, and for, the Iroquoian warriors.

Images from: Fashion In History
Native Americans Online

Friday 11 October 2013


'This too shall pass',
my grandmother said,

over and over to me - 

There was always something
that needed comforting

in me.

Yesterday I glanced up
to find a hospital plaque

talking to me - 

'It will pass, whatever it is',
it said, and time looped back

to watch over me.

 © shaista, 2013

Today is the day the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Today is also the 87th birthday of Vietnamese Zen monk and peace embodiment Thich Nhat Hanh. Martin Luther King Jr. strived to put forward Nhat Hanh's name for the Nobel prize in the 60's but time has moved far along from the Vietnam War, and the monk moves in much quieter waters now. 

Without his teachings in my life, my own peace struggle with pain, fear and anxiety would be a sad and terrible failure. The greatest of the lessons has been the simplest - to stay present and if fearlessness is available in the present moment, revel in it, trust it, be grateful for it. It passes. The gratitude and the pain. The fear and the remedy. It passes, whatever it is. For days I had stitches that had worked themselves into such positions that I could neither sleep nor breathe without the constant scratch scratch against the soft inner linings of my eye. I wrote to the surgeon with hope, and two days ago he kindly saw me, plucked out the offending irritants and trimmed others he saw might irritate me in time. Purple stitches they were, caught just in time - he was leaving for China that night to perform complex surgery on a train. Lucky travelling patients, lucky me. Perhaps they don't need prizes and awards, the heroes of our world. They just need to exist. And practice.

images: The Mag

Friday 4 October 2013



Till morning comes
a princess remembers
secrets of the heart -

the bride stripped bare,
the blue flower,
the glass palace,
a city of bells;

Old path, white clouds,
clear light of day -
surprised by joy,
our feet walk the sky;

Only love is real.

(c) Shaista Tayabali

This piece is inspired by a New York artist, Nina Katchadourian, creator of the 'Sorted Books' project - where photographs of clusters of books form an idiosyncratic poetry of sorts... a hidden, spine poetry, revealing something of the reader's tastes, and simultaneously testing the constraints of language and grammar. I was hoping to include a poem in time for National Poetry Day, but I am excusing myself on grounds of an outrageously painful eye. I did have a poem published in time for Volume Magazine though!
Most of my books are in boxes in the garage (I have been living a nomadic life this summer moving from place to place, but I will be settling somewhere 'propah' soon) so a couple are a selection from the general home library as opposed to just my own. 
This poem joins part of the dVerse - Poets Pub where a constellation of poets share their talents, offer advice and challenges... try writing a spine poem with your own library selection :)

I think this one by Samuel Peralta is brilliant...

The Passage

Only the sea keeps
crossing the chasm

Inside the tornado,
the conjuror's bird
the possible past:

the hundred secret senses,
the gates of exquisite view.

Friday 27 September 2013


The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another, his mother called him WILD THING and Max said, I'LL EAT YOU UP so he was sent to bed without eating anything.

That very night in Max's room a forest grew and grew and grew until the ceiling hung with vines... and an ocean tumbled by with a private boat for Max and he sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to the place where the wild things are...

I bought this book for my nephew Rafael long before he was ready and when he arrived this autumn, I still wasn't sure, but almost the first words he spoke to any of us were, "I'm goin' EAT You All Up!" And Max was already in Raf and Raf was Max.
But Max is in me too. The place of the Wild Things is the place I entered the night after my eye operation. It took over three hours and when I woke, my body was doing something very strange.

'And now', cried Max, 'let the Wild Rumpus start!'

I have a theory about why I reacted so wildly post waking from anaesthesia. Our brain doesn't completely shut down during anaesthesia, even if the CNS is paralysed, and it felt as though I was simply continuing my rumpus through those hours of desperately trying to get away from the pain. I was almost jack knifing off the bed, spasming every few seconds, then minutes, then longer passages. When my speech was less slurred I requested the lovely Irish nurse minding me to keep me in the recovery room so Mum wouldn't have to worry about this as well. Karen made me laugh by teasing me and calling me Nemo, because I was flapping about so.

Pain is an animal and I became Queen of the Wild Things that night. With nothing to numb the localised site of surgery, I was facing down something with sharp and terrible claws minute after minute for almost a year until it was morning and I saw the surgeon again and he numbed my eye for a brief, beautiful few seconds.

'Now stop!' Max said, and sent the Wild Things off to bed without their supper and Max, the King of all the Wild Things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all. Then from all around from far away across the world he smelled good things to eat. So he gave up being King of Where The Wild Things Are...
I am still sailing in the boat of pain, but feeling grateful for every day spent with the people who love me best of all and keep my supper hot and make me cups of tea and most of all, for the memory of a small figure with curly hair and a wild look in his eye as he commands or cajoles, 'Aunty Shai, tell me 'tory!' and then when I begin with 'Once upon a time', tucking himself neatly into my lap with a sigh and the occasional tap tap of his fingers against my skin keeping time to the rhythm of a tale spun just for him.

Monday 23 September 2013


Hasn't this been the most unexpected summer? A full summer for me, filled with new experiences, most of them wonderful, some sad. I went to the beach with my cousins and 'crabbed' for the first time - humane crabbing - we put 'em all back...
The seagulls were out in force, and the beach huts delectable...
No, I did not leap into the bracing (c-c-c-c-cold) sea, but watched others bravely attempt the waves as I read Plath on the pebbles and chose a few jewel like blue shells. And on another day, when the weather was warmer I toasted my first marshmallows and was offered a quail's egg by my five year old cousin Oli, who also spent the day teaching me about the ways and practises of hornets, dragonflies, and various birds whose names I shamefully cannot remember now (good thing he doesn't read my blog...)

The summer has been full of animals enjoying the heat and the rain too, at Shepreth Wildlife park - a place I'd never been to until the arrival of my nephew...
The days of this precious visit from the Singaporeans has meant a rare reunion of the brothers and myself with babies everywhere and a LOT of 'tories. Most of my nephew's 'tories require someone eating someone else up, but I try to work in some vegetarian tales too - of tigers and leopards eating potatoes and 'trawberries... I have also tried to lightly warn Rafael that I might have to go away to see the doctor, but how can you prepare a two year old for the return of his Aunty Shai with a pirate patch covering one bloody eye? Maybe I could ask the blue eyed surgeon for a friendly Gruffalo patch? Children live entirely in the moment so Rafa will simply have to work it out when he sees me although am not sure how long the operation will take. Wish me luck today, me hearties.