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.