Thursday 30 April 2020


A tiny bowl slipped out of my hands this evening
as I stopped to gaze at a bird in flight,

light streaming from her wings, the curve 
unimaginable to me, heavy on the floor of the world.

It was a dessert bowl, crystal, part of a set.
They are always part of a set, these cups 

and saucers that fall and smash around my feet.
A pool of diamonds glinting in concrete cracks,

so beautiful, so dangerous. My heart missed 
not a beat, as though inured now 

to my unintentional, careless ways. 
Sweep after sweep is not enough; 

my faithful eyes find more shards, jewel bright, 
shining still, for my faithless eyes. 

© Shaista Tayabali, 2020

A few days ago I heard the news that my friend and MA tutor, the Cambridge poet and novelist Caron Freeborn, had left this world, suddenly, and almost without notice. I didn’t know she had been recently diagnosed with cancer; I only knew I had been thinking of her and missing her. I wrote to her, but only silence came. When I heard the news, the silence was even more numbing. In the wake of a poet leaving, the air sounds a little different. 

Into the companion of my shattered glass bowl, I floated something green, and every day she grows, reminding me of something... something I forget when the light is bleak.

(a poem shared with Dverse Poets, on Open Link Night)

Tuesday 21 April 2020


My cousin Barbara asks me if I have been writing lots of poetry. It struck her the other night that there was poetry in this, this time of strangeness, of discovering one's ability to adapt, perhaps - the beauty inherent in that. And indeed, Carol Ann Duffy has just initiated a project titled 'Write Where We Are Now', gathering the thoughts and feelings of her fellow poets on our global viral tidal wave. We surprise ourselves with adaptation, and it thrills us to discover - still here, still here. No matter what. Tsunami, earthquake, the plague, coronavirus. The Great Depression, Wall Street Crash, demonetisation. The end of circuses, the beginning of Tiger King. The end of letter writing, the beginning of emoticons. Lose limbs, become an Olympic athlete. Hospital a dangerous place? Self inject.
What gets lost in the adaptation? The transition. The nuances within those transitions. My anxiety before the sub cut training, my sleepless nights. My terrible sense of the cold once I had penetrated my flesh, in two different sites, slowly, each ml a painful new reality. 'You'll get used to it.' 'Some people love it.' 'You won't even feel it.' Later, someday. You'll be like the others. Who smile and laugh and brush this off. It's nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

The extremely vulnerable must continue to isolate. It is for their own protection. Meanwhile we rush to open our vital economies. Our schools. Life must be returned to normal. Meanwhile there is a rush on Hydroxychloroquine. India closes her borders to exporting the raw materials. Poor lupus patients. Meanwhile it's possible that doesn't matter because being on immunosuppressive therapies may explain why auto-immune patients aren't dying en masse. You're fine, lupus patients. Your cytokine storms aren't as wild and intemperate as ours. As you were. But all the same, stay home afterwards. After our storms subside. Our bodies are the frontlines. We will protect you. We may also infect you. Just stay quiet. With that needle in your flesh. It's for your own good. The front door is your safest bet. Behind that front door... well, never mind that.

That sense of cold I mentioned? It is the place of loneliness, of abandonment. Of being protected for one's own good under strictly controlled guidelines. Of the new normal being the old normal, only with an edge. An edgier edge. But it must be contained, or else our little cup of sunshine will be consumed with the single thought that threatens to destroy us on any ordinary day. The lupus patient was never meant to survive.

And yet she does, with a paintbrush in her hands. Where poetry fails me, I paint my reality. Back and forth. Wax on, wax off. Until I become something akin to the Buddhist novice, who, in elevating a simple monotonous task with consciousness, finds nirvana.

Tuesday 7 April 2020


Taking off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes
gazes out at me, behind the window frame,
half content to be in Billy Collins’ world,
half wishing to be me;

cross-legged in the evening sun,
drinking rose petal tea.

I can name the Yellow Rose, the Frilly Poppy,
the Bee, longing for that same tea;
the half-eaten, bruised cherries,
the guzzling, drunken, blackbird feast.

Deep in the shadows, lazy snakes
of ivy curl, and the wind is a Tempest again.

I walk among the unnamed things,
the secret, hidden lives;
I pronounce the names of Latinate things,
and trip on the words and smile:

Cerastium tomentosum, snow in summer.
Gallium odoratum, stars in spring.
Lavendula angustifolia,
where the herb garden sings.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2020

Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes is the title of one of Billy Collins' poetry collections. He is one of my favourite poets, a playful and compassionate storyteller. Our cherry tree is slowly turning brown. If only the bright white blossom would last longer, but alas the winds have tumbled the petals down. These are slow times, which suit the person used to slowness (however much she may have fought the way it was forced upon her). I hope you are all coping with the pace newly forced upon you. I am determined to learn the names of things, which a poet really ought to know... but what else are we here to do, other than learn, forget, and promise ourselves we will learn again?