Tuesday 30 December 2014


Outside, I hear morning birds and someone begins the onerous task of sweeping dust. Dust in India cannot be swept away. Can be swept from here to there, but mostly it fluffs itself up in the air and lands daintily again by the sweeper's feet, as though to suggest they would both be more comfortable if they could just accept each other for what they are to each other. Dust provides the sweeper with a job. And the sweeper provides dust with excitement, a little flurry, a change of pace and place.

Why is dust? It is not pretty or useful.

Why is illness? It is not pretty or useful.

And yet here I am. Dusty with illness and that ubiquitous meaningless word - pain.

And yet here I am, loved.

I am kintsukuroi, broken pottery joined by gold dust and laquer. Where the break joins, there is no seamless transition. You can see the suffering and the mechanism of healing. A friend of mine sent me an image of such a bowl made more beautiful by its interesting narrative; she hoped to inspire a poem. But the kintsugi philosophy made me want to write more words than a poem might permit. It has made me think of my broken pieces joined not by stitches and scar tissue, but by the gold dust of love and friendship.

I have always been hesitant to return to India since my diagnosis of lupus in 1997 because I didn't want to return ill. But I am ill, and I am here, and both must be joined somehow. I say I am kintsukuroi not because I am made beautiful, but because I hope such beauty can be possible. Are we all broken and scarred in some places? Then are we not all beautiful? I sat outside for a few moments yesterday, and a cluster of sari and bangle clad women gardeners wove a little circle around me. They were off in the distance one moment, and the next were crouching inches from my feet. One lady asked me the time - maybe she really needed to know. Maybe she just wanted to hear me speak, make a connection. We don't speak the same language - I am in the south of India, where the pace of life is very different from Bombay. But the smiles are the same.

The only difference now is the smiles are not for me - two small figures fascinate their passers by. I am just in the shadow of their smiles. But shadows never looked more beautiful.

Monday 22 December 2014


December 2014. The year is gathering her skirts for the final curtsy. She has been Queen Elizabeth in her Dame Dench-Shakespeare In Love guise for me this year...you know that scene towards the end after the performance of Romeo and Juliet, when Dame Dench/ Her Majesty hesitates for a moment contemplating the icky muddy pool of dirtwater before her, and then with a disgusted look at her noblemen and courtiers, leaps over the hurdle herself?
That's the way I'd characterise some of the last months of this year. An icky pool of dirtwater to be navigated with little elegance and none of the flair I have grown accustomed to.
I am already looking back on the years of 2010, '11 and '12 with a fondness for the old days of pomp and glory. There were weddings to attend, and finally, 2013 brought me my three angel nieces; but since the summer of their births, I have been sliding into a graceless decline.

I have been riddled with infections all year and most of last year too. And although my walk across the stage to be congratulated for my MA graduation with distinction, was filled with pride and confidence... still, this disease haunts my every waking moment.

So of course, in times of great distress and trauma and impending depression, one must buy a plane ticket and get the hell outta dodge!

I am flying far away from fenland and gorse bush to a green city where two small nieces are going to get a little shock when their Aunty Shai rocks up below their balcony and hollers out their names... Will they wave excitedly or look bemused, or take it in their stride that their Aunty Shai has returned to the land of her birth? I shall report.

Meanwhile Merry Christmas mes amies, mi amigos, my beloveds... Let us meet again soon when '14 turns to '15 and we are freshly birthed into the new year.

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. 

Monday 20 October 2014


On BBC radio, there used to be a programme called A History of the World in 100 Objects: the presenter takes a single object and pursues its history and relevance through time, engaging us in discovery and connection. Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, is currently exploring 600 years of German history looking at objects as small as ducats, as crafted as Riemenschneider's limewood sculptures and as pivotal as the Friedrichstraße station.
Manuscripts like Luther's 1541 Bible examine the creation of an entire language.

In Princeton, New Jersey, Pulitzer prize winning novelist Toni Morrison's lifetime works, manuscripts, drafts and proofs are finally being added to the permanent library collection at Princeton University. As writers, we seem particularly fascinated by the crafting process, the scribbled postscripts, the writing in the margins in the hands of our greats that become invisible in the final work.

On a shelf at home is a copy of Brontë's Jane Eyre that belonged to my aunt Saida. From childhood, until she recently died, my aunt had two best friends called Zia and Pushpa (known throughout their lives as The Girls). Aunty's copy of Jane Eyre, which I first read when I was a girl, has pencil scribblings throughout the pages, but particularly beside the 'juicy' romantic bits. Saida and The Girls passed the book around during class and their comments range from silly to naughty to incomprehensible inside jokes. The experience for me was then, as it is now, deeply satisfying.

I often buy books for friends, but find myself hesitating to write inscriptions. Recently I sent my beloved Mary a copy of Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision - and wrote with such a faint pencil that she almost missed the inscription altogether. I can't understand why I am so loathe to leave any mark in a book. Do you have any ideas? My shelves are full of books I love, and return to, and reach instinctively for even if simply to hold them. Why am I afraid to leave my mark, pencil or otherwise, in the margins? I was here. Is that not something of importance? Do I feel so insignificant in the scheme of things that I may as well leave no mark?

Last week, I left this reductive, diminishing voice at home and walked on to a stage, and became a Master of Arts graduate. I wore the gown with pride, tossing my tasselly hat about (carefully, so as not to dislodge the single bob pin holding it down - I had lent my other bobby pin to a fellow grad whose hat was rocketing about, bobbypinless).

I walked on to the stage, thinking of Malala Yousafzai, who had just won the Nobel Peace Prize, feeling proud that I am an educated woman. Knowing she would be proud of me.

Thursday 2 October 2014


they are calling this month, this year.
And who wants to miss
the golden month,
the golden year?

So I tuck my auto-antibodied
phenoxymethylpenicillined feet
into golden sandals
and find a tree.

Up between the branches
I see wing curves drifting
and between my toes,
leaves crackle.
'Auburn,' I tell myself. 'Not rust, dry,
dead, bones.'

And when the light falls a certain way,
I can almost believe what they say.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2014
I am beset by infection. Three of them playing havoc. The dentist informed me that my wisdom tooth infection could be life-threatening if I was unlucky. Shall I add that to my other life-threatening illness? (I didn't ask, but thought.) He is rather dishy (for a dentist), so I grinned on the outside, grim on the inside. And fled. 

Golden October sun this afternoon so I take a book and Ming's pen out for a walk. I sit under the horse chestnut, meaning to read quietly, but my landlady's son has spied me, and keeps running to me to discuss conkers and pick pieces of bark to make conker and bacon-bark sandwiches. My legs are stretched out before us, making handy tables for our bowls of soup… when his mother comes to collect him, he commands me to hold still, admonishing me even as he is lifted into the back seat of the car. Head skewed at an alarming angle, hollering instructions as she drives away. He is four.
When he is gone, I write about birds and dead leaves. And when I finish the poem, I see that I was wrong about the dead and the dry. The tree is the most alive thing. I can hear her shaking herself free, shrugging off leaves that curl and somersault after their own hula hooping sway to a soft crackling flump beside me. I keep thinking I hear footfalls.
I hold very still till Connor returns. 
Autumn in Madeira by Jacek Yerka via Magpie Tales

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...

Thursday 31 July 2014


Rain song.
A dog's song.

I am in a hurry to reach my nieces
before bed songs.

Paw prints on my Gap white t-shirt:
Grace, next door, wanted to play;

the shortest journey stretches the longest
as I count my way

Dandelions tempt me
and I denude one, shamelessly;
I bury my nose in lilac and think
everything is lavender this day.

I pass immaculate glass conservatories
and somewhere a tractor disturbs
the evening chorus.

Eva, can you hear my
sandals treading swiftly?

Ellie, will you decipher lavender
when you brush against my thigh,
when you use my limbs as props
for whims?

When you gesture imperiously,
I arrive.

© Shaista, 2014

I love all of my nieces and my nephew equally, of course, but can only walk to two of them. I write as I walk, carving words in rhythm to my steps, gathering flowers, which they might like to eat when I arrive…

Sunday 20 July 2014


Four years ago, I wrote and published a poem called Crossing Borders. This was how it began…

'If I meet an Israeli, I will tell him I am not a terrorist. I am Palestinian.'
Amal, 9 years.
On a tiny strip of land,
miles you can count
on the fingers of your hand,
bombs are falling
to the rhythm of their own time.
They leave behind
nothing - only rubble;
if they could
they would even take the sand...

I wrote the poem because I was inspired by a little girl called Amal who was featured in a documentary about the children of Gaza. That's her in the picture above. She spent much of the documentary being ferried to doctors who could do very little about the shrapnel in her head, causing migraines and constant pain. I don't know if she is alive today. Or living and in more pain. 

The big picture of human suffering is impossible to cope with. I cannot. But I am always listening for the voices, the ones who carry their story to me, to us, usually written on their bodies. In Dublin next month, Yaël Farber's Amnesty award winning play Nirbhaya arrives; described as 'a piercing scream of a play', it weaves the events of 16 December 2012, the brutal rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey, the medical student on a Delhi bus, who was nicknamed Fearless One by the Indian media, with real life stories of the actors, survivors themselves. Her death, her suffering, has allowed such stories to pour out of India - a country that contains terror and heroism in equal measure. 

Another story has gained a different kind of media attention - the Hollywood kind. Esther Grace Earl, a nerd fighter and general all-round savvy, sharp-edged, gorgeous teenager died of thyroid cancer four years ago - August 25, 2010. Like so many others who have seen the film or read the book The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (that's him with Esther above, looking entranced by her, as I imagine all who met her were) I am discovering Esther. She was 16 and a few weeks when she died. John Green describes her as being wholly alive, even in her final days - even when she could not get out of bed, permanently attached to breathing apparatus, 'she found ways to be fully alive: to crack jokes, to love and to be loved. And then she was gone, all at once.'
She was a writer too, and her parents have just published her diary writings in a book titled This Star Won't Go Out (also the name of the charity foundation in her name) and the title strikes me as exactly right for all the individuals who suffer and strive for joy and leave a deep impression on our lives. Like Malala Yousefzai, also the Fearless One. I think Esther and Malala could have been soul mates. In an alternate universe…
Yesterday I was blowing bubbles with my twin nieces, celebrating the completion of the first year of their lives. Life is fleeting and we can live forever, both, all at once.

Wednesday 2 July 2014


The great vast network connects
and divides us - time stretches us thin;

we give years to the knowing,
the unravelling of others -

in the end, when change comes,
we know nothing.

We learned nothing yesterday
that we remember today

but for the sense of
once upon a time, when we began.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2014 
Image: A Game of Patience, 1937, Meredith Frampton via Magpie Tales 

An Elegy to Peter Lapsley, a Stranger, and Chaitan Maniar, a Friend

For years I had been wanting to write an article for the Patient Journey section of the BMJ - the British Medical Journal. Finally, I wrote to the editor, a Peter Lapsley, and explained my desire to create awareness about a condition that still befuddles doctors and patients alike. Peter was lovely in his email and promised he would consider my piece even though a long list of articles were waiting to be published. Only one other patient had written a lupus journey, so I started to write mine.
Then I began my MA and the article slipped out of my mind.
A few weeks ago I recalled it. MA done, I remembered Peter and although I was deathly embarrassed about the time that had passed, I crossed my fingers and sent the article to him.
No reply.
And then, finally, a rather chilly one line message from anonymous, saying Peter had died last year and could I contact the current editor of the BMJ instead.

Dead. Just like that. Time passes. And you miss a person's life altogether.

So I googled Peter, just to see. Just to say hello to his ghostly internet spirit. And here he is. Doesn't he look nice?

And I discover two things: the first is that he was a literary giant in the field of fly fishing. And second, Peter had lupus. Peter died because of leukaemia but having lupus would have made him more fragile.

And I find myself wishing he had told me. It would have made me send my article pronto. It would have given me that special fellow feeling we lonely lupus patients need. But of course, he was a professional medical editor. Did he want to, though? Was he tempted?

Isn't it funny how we know death is ever present, can claim us at any time, and still we don't act. We truly live, believing life is endless, forever, a patient river we can swim in at our discretion. Are we the most arrogant of species, or simply the most hopeful?

Death claimed my father's oldest and best schoolfriend a few days ago. A prominent lawyer in Bombay, Chaitan Maniar was something of a Shakespearean hero. Noble in the true sense of the word. He was a literary giant too, in a nonchalant way - a man who could quote poetry and philosophy and the law as easily as he breathed and walked. I am trying not to grieve for him, because I was his friend too, and true friends leave nothing undone. This picture is from the last time he visited, two months ago, kissed by evening light, with his best friend's son and granddaughter…

Sunday 22 June 2014


The clematis are dying in purple paper clusters,
a pretty, dusty, crepuscular fading
of old lace, doilies,
beside the newly hatched delphinium -

only the daisies seem invincible.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2014
image: Sweet Summer, 1912, John William Waterhouse from Magpie Tales

Sunday 8 June 2014


(for Mary Haybittle)

Sometimes you have to catch
the light, just where it falls

beyond the line of blue iris and purple clematis
to where the oak tree stands boundary.

Shade comes too soon, and the blanket
wrapped around your knees reminds you
of the ages yet to come.

An old knit, still holding true
everywhere, except for two

black squares eaten away,
which remind you
the knitter is gone too.

@Shaista Tayabali, 2014

My Maya Angelou collection on the blanket my grandmother knitted.

Thursday 8 May 2014


A friend alerted me to an online community activity called #100happydays. 100 days, 100 pictures, 100 moments of happiness recorded and shared between friends or the wider public. I was intrigued by the aspect of a happiness discipline, which strongly resembles a gratitude list. If something makes you happy, you are grateful to it, for it. I have been 'playing along' for a week, although this is a practice I made a part of my life ten years ago, when I realised my definition of happiness was the ability to be grateful.

On 14 April, 200 heavily armed militants in 20 vehicles burnt down a school in Chibok, Abuja, Nigeria, and stole 200 schoolgirls. One schoolgirl for each terrorist. The name of the group translates as 'Western education is forbidden', and the leader has his name mentioned in news reports. It angers me that I know his name, have seen his face; what of the girls? I only want to know their names, and see their faces. But when I do, I pray when not if, what will I see written on their faces? That is the real terror.

It has been three weeks, and 11 more girls have been abducted. We are aware, we are awake to this crime, and can do nothing to prevent the trauma the girls must already have suffered.

This month continues the twenty year anniversary of the 100 days of genocide that took place in 1994, in Rwanda, beginning April 7th.

Always, behind the facts are names...

How are we to look into the face of our own happiness without seeing the trauma and unhappiness of others? Our minds are fragile things, and our spirits need to be nurtured and nourished so that we can bring our children up into a world of hope and possibility and joy.

I think this might be the true purpose of the #100happydays movement. It seems frivolous at times. And at other times, absolutely essential.

Thursday 1 May 2014


(for Mary Haybittle)

On a Tuesday afternoon,
in the only place to be,
tables must be shared, politely.

I join the ladies at Number 5
and flash a half-mast smile;
not the full-watt:
they have been here a while

they fall silent with a proprietary air
and watch me

The mug and saucer are mottled grey
ceramic, but surprisingly light
as I lift my fruit and flower
blush pink drink to my lips
and for once feel happy with my choice.

The Jackson Five count out the alphabet
behind cutlery
and the humming of refrigeration:
I keep my legs firmly crossed
lest they break out, break dance,
break the surface charm
of a genteel English deli.

But the coffee here is Italian
and my tea came from the hibiscus tree:

I remember the flowers falling
and my bare feet rushing
to catch them
before the monsoon floods did.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2014

Arrived in the post, this delicate tea cup, half the size of my thumb,
from my beloved friend Mary,
to whom I dedicate the poem. 

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: http://www.raniamatar.com