Sunday 28 September 2014


I took late afternoon tea with Turner at the Tate (a story that requires its own post) after waving off my nieces at Heathrow. Their little feet looked ready for travels.

On a train out of London to Cambridge, you come upon countryside all of a sudden. You thought you would organise yourself, have a rummage around your bag, you had only just left the station. And then, midst scrabble, you see them. Horses, cows, sheep, living grazing beings. Constable territory. England. And you are glad you looked out of the window just then.

I have sheep days; weeks when all I seem to do is graze and low, and wonder why I was born human but act snail. Not so the last several days. In fact, I have been positively greyhoundish most of this summer and now, as autumn approaches with ever deepening hues, I really should not be surprised that I feel haunted with exhaustion. (There comes to mind, at this opportune moment, the memory of Turner's mask residing in a corner of the exhibition, cast immediately after his death... a grisly idea).

But just as I was getting ready to fade away and succumb to the inevitable horrors, I had a visitor. The first part of her Chinese name refers to that particular shade of brilliant light that comes with sun and moon meeting. And then, at the moment of their embrace, peace. Ming-an. She, of the famous Brantingham-Hayes-Cattell lineage from Taiwan, Ohio and Brantingham, England, the original ancestral seat.

Jeanne, of the many names and connecting threads, has just brought her wonderful business venture, Bunnies By The Bay, to English shores for generations of babies and children to fall in love with. Xiao Bao (Little One of Her Tribe), is the sort of person who sat beside the late great Dr Maya Angelou at a dinner given in both their honours - and captivated Maya with her storytelling gifts - and didn't Ming savour telling me that particular tale! I made her tell it twice. Jeanne, who offered to help my mother in any way she possibly could when I was critically ill, although she had never met me - had only decided to love me because of my words on a blog. Jeanne, the artist at Wu Feng Road, who posted a parcel to me after I was released from hospital, so I could have her art on my walls...
And here she was, my first overnight guest, curled up on my sofa, engrossed in the first chapters of my novel. And her gift to me? A pen, bought in Saigon, with a dragonfly carved into its velvet skin. I placed her travelling journal of art, and paint pots, next to my poetry journal...

Some years ago, when I went on retreat to Plum Village, a monk gave me my official novice name, which translates from the Vietnamese to Radiant Joy.

Jeanne's Chinese name means Bright Peace.

Soul mates find each other. All it takes is a little time. And the length of a red thread.

Sunday 14 September 2014


'Good grief.'
Is there such a thing?
Grief rhymes with thief.
That much is true.

I am always grieving.

Something has always been stolen
is stolen
will be stolen

You thought it was about love
but it is always grief that wins.
Grief who writes the books
waiting just under the skin
for a little pin prick
a little release
and then the slow unending bleed.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2014

I am reading Helen Macdonald's 'H is for Hawk' and it feels like a culmination, a coming home. Macdonald is a falconer who decided to train a goshawk after her father died. She uses words I have to look up like 'palimpsest' and 'annealed' and shares a world of wildness and rapture and wings. I've never read anything like it.

Every day I want to write, and I can't. At least, I cover no significant ground. A poem here, a diary or journal entry there, an email, a letter… but none of those hours one needs to devote to finish a BOOK. You know, those things that look like blocks, but come apart on one side. Who said that?* Someone with a snide sense of humour, and a remonstration to those who don't read the way writers do. Obsessively, compulsively. Like the pages are a nest you are building to live in, forever.
Except, sometimes, you don't have forever. Because you have advanced glaucoma and a metaphoric wolf snarling or muttering at you all the day long hours. At night I relax. Maybe the wolf is tired of all that snarling and curls up, close beside me but so still I can pretend I am alone.

Just before my birthday, a friend of mine died. She wasn't someone I saw very much because she had cancer and although we were both in and out of the same hospital, a lupus and a cancer patient share only a language of needles, sickness, wit and the long shadow of death and grief. We rarely share wards or infusion bays. Sometimes we do, like when Clive James sat opposite me and we shared Marian Keyes' Guinness cake, but mostly cancer has its own world. And lupus squeezes in here and there between leukaemia and rheumatoid arthritis. There have been so many deaths in our family over the past six years, including, most recently, my aunt Gerda, and so I think my grief over my friend's death was really a sense of exhaustion with all of the deaths, the private ones and the public ones on the news. We are bombarded, are we not?

A few months before my friend Selene Mills died, we met for tea at the local deli and she gave me a pelargonium. For weeks afterwards, I'd been meaning to write to her and tell her I couldn't bear to throw the petals away because they were so beautiful. She worked for the Cambridge Early Music group and the music at her funeral, chosen by her, left me wishing I could read music, play music, so I could have truly understood her. I am so envious of all of you who play instruments! But what I can do is appreciate music and extraordinary literature and the slow perfect growing of a plant potted by loving hands and a generous heart. And that must be enough for now.

*F. Scott Fitzgerald now that I've looked it up...