Saturday 29 November 2014


One of the greatest joys of my life is being the daughter of artists. Every few months of every year, a person comes to life on my mother's canvas. Although she has a tiny cramped attic studio, accessible only by a metal ladder and involving a thickly weaved rope to pull herself up the final stage through a trapdoor (I know! The shenanigans have to be seen to be believed…) Mum often works at the breakfast room table in full view of her critics. My brothers and I peer at drafts, tossing off phrases like 'The nose isn't right… you haven't quite got the perspective… that background shade really doesn't work…' etc, etc. Each piece is worked through Michelangelo-esque struggles - the ultimate alchemy of transforming a blank page into a work of art.

Sometimes it isn't a person. It's a dog called Pepe. And when the last piece of chalk pastel worked its Perveen-directed wonder, Pepe leapt out at her, ready to play fight, growling lovingly with the thrill of being alive.

Saturday 22 November 2014


Her socks are bright green with white criss crosses
stitched into the soles.
She can't breathe very well, a second
of silence is all her lungs afford her 
before the grunt, the hack, the open mouthed
insistent call to the nothingness that is listening;

her gown is pink, but calls to mind
no cotton candy, blush of youth, or
any of the plush arrays of nail polish
displayed in every magazine or shop
she may never visit again.

Her name is Dorothy. And I know
I will never see her again. She belongs 
only to the blue walls, blue curtains,
beeping bleeping clocked closed
world of the ward. But when she looks across at me,
we have always been here, together. 

© Shaista Tayabali, 2014

On the ward yesterday, after all the blood letting, and as the chemo/mabtherapy dripped into me, I listened to Dorothy trying to breathe beside me. Attached as I was, exhausted as I was, I could only wait out the hours. Past 10pm when my cannula was removed and I was free, I packed up my books, magazine, iPad, travelling life, and crossed the two feet of space that separated my life from Dorothy's. She is 90, and I suppose, wandering in her mind because she is wondering what on earth she is doing in that hospital bed, severed from her real life. I held on to her hand for a while as she talked. I caught only phrases. Why were they bothering her with their insistence that she should be walking? She was tired! Did I know that Bill had died? Did I know that Ann was getting married again? At 50! I squeezed her hand. And then bid her farewell. I say I will never meet Dorothy again because I have never met any of the older generation of patients that have marked my time in hospital over the years. The younger ones, on regular infusions like me, I do meet and meet again. But when I write Dorothy into a poem, it is so that she will live on, here with me, and now with you.