Thursday 16 March 2017


If you were to ask me
What my favourite colour is
I would have to say blue;
Even though blue is the colour
Of the plastic curtain my elbow keeps brushing
As I type this poem
Leaning towards the closed hospital window.

They've painted the edges of the buildings outside
The shade of my first bedroom in England -
The Blue Room, I called it, not inventively.

Which came first? The chicken or the egg?
My niece Eva says, 'Chicken.'
And we all marvel.

Which came first, the blue paper curtains,
This long marriage with hospital,
Or my love of blue?

Hard to tell.

The sun is up. The kind of torch light bright
That hurts your eyes but does its job
Matter of factly. Some nurses are like that.
Others make room for hugs and jokes; jokes
That are a nimbus around a heart of compassion;
A beady eyed watchfulness for when things
May suddenly turn serious and need an
Oxygen mask, an ECG, and more of those curtains
Whisked around quickly.

The quietly fainting patient must be revived
At all costs. They save lives in here.

(c) Shaista Tayabali, 2017

Claude Monet 'Impression: soleil levant'

This week, impressionism is being celebrated over at Dverse Poets - my father's favourite art movement - the one that influenced him the most. And the one that comes closest to describing what anyone with myopia or glaucoma or cataracts sees - brush strokes of colour, if you're lucky. 

Wednesday 8 March 2017


There is a nun in South Korea
who walked up the side of a mountain
to Baekyangsa temple, when she was
seventeen, and her mother had just died.

You have come here to live,
said the nun who opened the door,
not asking a question; just telling
a truth that had yet to manifest.

Jeong Kwan unpins her freshly
laundered robes and whispers them
around her shoulders. How old is she?
Only the mountain knows.

But the taengja tree outside her window
is 500 years old. Hardy orange, it still
bears fruit, and Kwan uses the sour juice
in her cooking.

She pickles lotus root three different ways,
then checks on jars of kimchi. She never
uses garlic, onions, scallions, chives, leeks.
Too distracting for a monk.

But soy?
Soy excites her.

Sometimes I agree with the world
that to be a mother is everything. Is the key
and the lock. Jeong Kwan vowed at seventeen
to not burden children with the pain of her death.

There is something in that,
for me.

We can't all choose to opt out
or the world would stop spinning
around humans. Bees might take over. Or
rats. Or better still, dust motes of light. Or dark.

Jeong Kwan unfurls petal after petal
of the lotus flower, soaking the skirt
in water. Later, she will pour the water
into a pot and you will want to gulp the tea

as though you are parched. You are parched
and this is the tea of enlightenment. The tea
that rings the bell of truth. Life can be this
way. An art. A craft. A discipline. A dance.

Three slices of lotus root, pickled
in an heirloom of soy sauce.

(c) Shaista Tayabali, 2017

Jeong Kwan is considered one of the finest chefs of this world by the finest chefs of this world, who are almost exclusively male. Life can be this way. Women can be this way. Happy Women's Day today and every day to all my friends and sisters, my mentors and teachers and heroes. We can be anything. We can do everything. Certainly, we can.

(Poem linked to Dverse Poets for Open Link Night)