Friday, 31 May 2013


My mother and I can never agree on which year we travelled to Madeira. But I have journals for every year, and so I have checked. It was 2004. At the airport, we were unable to resist buying a Bird of Paradise bulb. It held promise, and we were prepared to be patient. We waited and watched over the plant as it grew and grew, green, leafy, tall. But we were really waiting for the flash of orange beak and blue headdress. It has taken nine years for the first flower to grace us with her presence. NINE! I feel anticipation of something special heralded and, at the same time, desperate - imagine waiting on a flower!
The sun is shining today, and I am twice returned: once from a flying visit to Ireland again, to attend the first public reading Marian Keyes has done in four years, since the axis of her world shifted into the worst of the horrors. Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin last night witnessed many transformations in her audience, from raucous, joyous laughter to the raw ache of mirroring each others' human suffering. Yes, we wanted to cry out to her, yes! Just exactly that. The soul laid bare quivers, pulls itself taut, appears impenetrable, hard as bone, and as easily shattered as bone.
I breathe. 2004 turns to 2005 and the dissolution of my own mind, cracked wide open by unbearable pain of optic nerve damage, of corneal ulcers, of catatonia until sunset when the painkillers had numbed me enough to descend the stairs and make a cup of tea for my father and myself to discuss death with biscuits. Chocolate cake might mysteriously appear if it had been a particularly brutal day. It took years for the edge to begin to soften.  That's what I call it. The Edge. I can taste it against my teeth. I fear it. And I try not to fear it. My surgeon saw it all and continues to infuse me with optimism inspite of some bleak realities, but my eyes are unpredictable. Which is why, sitting opposite him today, having a relatively gentle procedure felt like small waves of torment. My eye wept for itself, pooling a little river by my chin like the Walrus in Alice in Wonderland ('I weep for you,' the Walrus said, I deeply sympathise... Holding his pocket-handkerchief before his streaming eyes'). 'It's been a while since you've made me cry,' I snarked at Blue Eyes, which actually made me feel much better, because it has been a while. And I have come leagues and travelled miles, and been blessed with new friends, new horizons, glorious humour and extraordinary kindness. And leprechauns. Shur, how can I forget the leprechauns?
We move forwards, ever conscious of the road ahead, gripping on for dear life to any vine of light. We want life.

E. M. Forster teaches us the way forward when he begins Howard's End: 
'Only Connect'.

Thursday, 16 May 2013


Gustave Klimt
I lie,
fallen tree.

Yesterday, they
cut a hole in me
three needles thick

They read my paper skin
in Braille and rust
and bone

They sucked my limbs
of milk and marrow
and when I cried for home 

They sought my neck
pale birch, fat jugular,
and drove their cannula

© Shaista Tayabali, 2013

A few days ago, May 10th, was World Lupus Day. This Friday, May 17th, is Put On Purple day for lupus (POP! if you like...) Cancer has pink, Lupus has purple...
I never remember these dates. I remember moments, small unforgettable invasions.
At a recent poetry workshop with a Cambridge poet-in-residence, we were given two words from which to create a draft of something to 'take away'. The words were Blood and Trees. I didn't have to rummage very deep to find the words above. I sat in a stairwell and within a quarter of an hour, I had my poem.
I rarely write poetry at a desk unless as a happy alternative to writing something else! Like my term paper, for example... which, however, I finished and handed in yesterday. In time for another hospital infusion today. Another cannula will greet me with the wry question, "Where, this time?"
But, when I return home, this cheerful blue butterfly doormat will await me, and also, if it hasn't blown away, this heart shaped leaf I found and placed beside it. Butterflies are the symbol of lupus, did you know? Well, didja?

Sunday, 5 May 2013

FAITH (the other side of the coin)

If I were to marry
it would surely
be springtime in England;

The birds would sing sweetly
all morning and
The sun would shine brightly
                  but ever so gently;

My feet would step lightly
on a carpet of daisies...

White as the blossom
pure as the dove,
My heart full and golden
with love.

- Shaista Tayabali, 2013

Young Woman Picking The Fruit Of Knowledge, 1892, Mary Cassatt (for magpie tales)

Saturday, 4 May 2013


Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm...
W. H. Auden

This I can see:
cherry blossom tumbling free
blackbird on mossy green;
Red tulip marrying
blue forget-me-not
in a wedding of wind 
and peace.

Hold still the moment
to etch the memory,
but there will be none;
We are as faithless 
as each other
and by nightfall, 
will both be gone.

- Shaista Tayabali, 2013
Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell...
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreadful cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but not from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost...
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head... 
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

If I may be morbid for a moment, I think I'd quite like to have this poem by Auden recited in my dying hour as I'm drifting away like the Lady of Shalott downstream to Camelot. Mind you, I might be so swept up by the beauty of the poem that I refuse to die... "Bring me a pen! Quick!" I'll command, (in a croaky voice), "I've a last poem in me..."
Meanwhile the blossom is being driven away by rain, and meanwhile my major eye operation has been temporarily set aside for a gentler approach; one last gasp before the surgeon decides whether the second tube is necessary after all. I should be ecstatic at the reprieve, but truthfully, my left eye is a torment to me anyway. Some days the little hot nerve centre of pain is so bad I want to be sick, but I try not be faithless. Everything is bright and glorious and green and lit around me. I am trying not to be faithless.

statue above:  'Youth' by Kathleen Scott