Monday 28 April 2014


You buy cupcakes with your cappuccino
and the barista asks after your love life.

You play dumb and ask after his
(you overheard him and his friend -
the coffee drinker before you -
discussing how she played him).

He breaks it down scene by scene -
(how he went to her birthday and
bought her Millie's Cookies
and everything
but then she never bothered
to show up to his
after he took her out to lunch
and paid
and everything).

And then he turns to you
till rung up, and chatting
about the single scene

as though I might be prowling
and buying cupcakes,
in exchange for dates,
might just be my thing.

I deflect, and pick my way
over to a solitary table
and scald my tongue on the first
bitter sip
before the chocolate lacing soothes it.

What if I told him the reason I was single?
That my body was a battlefield
and my flesh destined for needles
and my eyes a network of scar tissue
and how pain can become the glue?

But later, when two girls come by
and I hear them giggling together

I trace the tip of vanilla butterfly wings
and drench my tongue in lemon curd
and let the chocolate orange sing to me

and be glad the only thing he heard
was that I was free.

The single poet, contemplating lyrics...

Dog on a Sofa via Magpie Tales 

Thursday 17 April 2014


First the hair
before it falls,
taffy, black molasses.

Then the skin,
fever-flush pink,
marshmallow cheeks,

Wait, I forgot the eyes,
(I don’t see too well, these days)
obscured by tubes and blebs
and blood.

And then the mouth
that eats poetry
and cake
and spills happiness by the barrel.

The body ballet depends on the day:
sometimes a corpse,
and other times, a salmon
leaping, dolphin hooting

Slumped on the desk, scribing,
tucked up in bed, scribing,
hooked to the needles,
falling down the manholes,

I find my eyes again,

There you are,

© Shaista Tayabali, 2014

Took this at the hospital just before one of my many myriad procedures.
This is how I see sometimes. Bit blurry, bit double visiony...

And this is how my mother sees me. Under her hands, I become whole. 

(Another interpretation of a dverse poets prompt…)

Wednesday 16 April 2014


I went to the place where the wild things are
last night, on the trail of the blood moon;
I followed stardust and scalpel stones
to the place beside the runes.

I held my palms, out,
for all the readers to see,
to make what they could of the threads that bind me
behind the smudging
     and the tearing
     and the rearranging
of my soul.

The blood moon passed over
I was bathed in blood
I paid in pain of a different sort
from a different source;

from the place where the wild things are
to the place where the unspeakables are
to the place where the silent are

© Shaista Tayabali, 2014

Phyllis Galembo, professor of fine art at Albany University in New York, celebrates the ritual of masquerade in her portrait photography from Nigeria, Haiti, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Benin. The carnival characters are rooted in African religion and spirituality, and among the materials plundered are lizard excrement, sugar syrup, tar, coal dust, leaves, cowry shells, sisal. 
Over at the dverse poets pub, the poets have thrown open the floor to interpretation.
I've been wanting to write something about the blood moon, and passover, so last night, I did… 

Monday 14 April 2014


Blue skies shinin' at me
Nothin' but blue skies do I see…

I'm walkin' on sunshine (oh oh!)
I'm walkin' on sunshine (yeah yeah!)
And it's time to feel good!

Don't know much about history,
Don't know much biology
Don't know much about science books
but I do know that I 


Tuesday 8 April 2014


My other favourite thing about life is serendipity.
Bowling along in a taxi to the Alliance Francaise building on Sarkies Road in Singapore, with a Francophone friend, I marvelled that only the day before I left England, I had been reading about an exhibition that I would have loved to attend, but it was too far away - all the way in London. And here I was in Singapore, heading to that same exhibition… albeit a briefer version of it.

The photographer Rania Matar's work is reminiscent of another Lebanese artist I love - the director, writer and actress Nadine Labaki, of Caramel fame. Caramel is one of my favourite 'womanish' films, inspired by the same determination to represent the Middle East as a place of ordinary lives rather than the bombings, terrorism and kidnappings favoured by Western media. Labaki set her film in a beauty salon, focusing on the lives of the four women who work, live and tend to each other's lives. Matar focuses on girls and young women in their own rooms. Music, laughter, spontaneous teasing and dancing are missing from Matar's exhibition, which is of course silent, but a strong narrative emanates from each image…

There was an abundance of teddy bears and a profusion of the colour pink - creating a particular impact against the shadows elsewhere. And then suddenly, a giant gaping hole in a wall behind a young girl, in whose eyes, so much. Her head is heavy, tired, resting, against a plush cushion, an ornate sofa. A certain kind of poverty against a certain kind of wealth. In the Bourj El Shamali camp, light creates magic and innocence at the tips of a little girl's curls. Behind her, the reality of refugee women.

Interspersed are large black and white photographs of nuns, redolent of rebellion, sitting on terraces, drinking black coffee. I expected cigarettes. Their black habits like a warning against being inopportune. Who would dare?

And the final picture, of a courting couple (this time, cigarette packets in their palms) – the man’s eyes hidden by sunglasses facing slightly away from the camera, unseeing; but the woman? She has her back to us. She is tall, slender (the hijab hides nothing of her elegant figure) and she is gazing at the sea, beyond the sea, to a life less ordinary than hers. There is something voyeuristic about the photographs, naturally, but in every pair of eyes, there is complicity. No one was stealing their soul. They were willing and wanting to connect. Even challenging us, to connect.

Rania Matar's website:

Thursday 3 April 2014


Isn't that a great title? I can't claim it - it is the title of a novel by Andrew Miller. I discovered the book in my brother's library, alongside Hilary Mantel, Haruki Murakami and Ann Patchett. My brother has eclectic taste; literary and popular fiction in equal measure. I try to work my way through his library when I am in Singapore, but I find my ability to concentrate on any kind of fiction narrows and disappears in the heat and nowness of that alternate universe.
There is always time for Frida, though (not part of my brother's library!)...

I manage to catch a few hours here and there, reading, writing, in cafes around the city. I have discovered, to my horror, that I am an exceptionally slow writer. I seem to build so little progress that I question my existence, my raison d'être, every day. My MA results thrum around the corner. And when I know, then?
I promised I would report on the leopard suit: it was worse than I predicted. Rafa tore into a river of tears. Suddenly he had no hands. He had paws. He had fur in his mouth. And it was no fun at all. He wanted to be a polar bear. I discovered that the paws could be unclasped and his hands freed but by then it was too late. The leopard suit was not for wearing in Singapore heat. Once he was out of it though, he was fine… and the leopard became a game again. Very Calvin and Hobbes.
Today I am on English shores and in my wrist, a cannula. A venflon. A blue butterfly needle. I was in hospital for 12 hours and since I have another infusion tomorrow, the nurse suggested I leave the needle in. There are daffodils springing everywhere and the cherry in our garden has bloomed into puff pastry softness, but I am too tired to do more than nod at them. One morning, like a bird, I flew away from the sun and landing, forgot I had wings. But then I closed my eyes and felt them, folded, beside me.