Sunday 31 December 2023


Write. What shall I write of? 
Sleep? When shall I sleep?

These last few months have seen Dad fall, enter and leave hospital. And then Mum had a cyst burst at the back of her knee. She entered and left hospital. At home, I happily wear the crown of Angel daughter, exhausted but knowing I can escape to a warm bed in between cooking and cleaning and helping with this and that …

But write? What shall I write of?
And sleep? When my dreams are part of my waking hours of images of children in Gaza, victims of a genocidal video game player. Remote button massacre with changes in ingredients … sometimes white phosphorus which burns straight to the bone… or changes in style and type of amputation. Not shattered messily, but sliced so neatly, Professor Ghassan Abu Sittah has never seen the like in all his years of being a surgeon. The Israeli government apologised: sorry for your recent loss, we dropped the wrong sort of bomb on your refugee camp. We meant to drop the other one. 

We managed to get the lights up … mum on the Christmas tree and across the windows in the rooms downstairs, me on my bedroom window and along the corridor outside. Any light will do to see me through.

I wished my brothers in their far away different time zone lands a happy new year. We give thanks for each other. All ok? All ok. Or to use the Arabic word - ‘tayyib?’ In so many of the clips I have seen on social media, I have heard Palestinians ask each other, ‘Tayyib?’ It’s used across the Middle East. From the word ‘Tayyab’ meaning Good. So in honour of my grandfather’s name, bestowed upon so many of us dotted around the globe, I try to uphold the virtue of goodness. Such a small word, ‘good’. Like ‘kind’. The small word, the small act, of truth and goodness, are the only way forward. But wait, what is truth? We live in a world in which each person, each community, holds fast to a different truth. And sometimes, will kill to prove their word is the truer word. With the better bomb. The right bomb.

So goodbye to another year. Much will be forgotten. Do we have the energy for 2024? The numbers look so strange to me. They make no sense at all. Haven’t we all been here far far longer than a mere two thousand and twenty three years? There goes one truth. Never mind. Shall we meet at the end of the road as it curves into 2025? What will be our losses then? What will we have learned? Ask me what I wrote. I hope to have an answer for my own question by then.

Ps: the title ‘God Is A Refugee’ is from a poem by Rashid Hussein. He also wrote a few words 

On Poetry

Sing what you like, but…

Let everybody understand.

You have become ink and words.

So why do you talk?

Poet, produce!

But let the worker and the peasant understand.

Let the murdered understand.

And let the fighter understand.

Thursday 16 November 2023


your cat came to me in my dream.

White, yet not entirely - she was real -
not as a cloud, she was eating lime.
Yes, I was holding a round green lime 
in my hand and she stole it to play.
Cats love to play, don’t they?
I say this as one who has never owned a cat 
or even, I confess, known or loved a cat.
But this cat, your cat, I presume -
although she was perhaps any 
of the lost cats doomed this Nakba - 
this cat, I say, knew me well enough 
to drape herself, Queen like, across 
my throat, as I was lying down in my bed - 
not the bed of my English home, 
in the country that questions me on home,
but the home of my dreams, 
the bed in my dreams, 
where I grew from baby to girl, 
to on the verge of something between 
girl and woman to be.
Protecting my throat, but also 
preventing me from moving, rising, 
perhaps even speaking - 
she was everything, 
commanding the wholeness of me. 
I feel her now - a heavy white scarf, 
a sacred promise, bound to me, 
as I to her - a symbol 
beyond my understanding. 

Ya Rahman. Ya Raheem. 

© Shaista Tayabali, 2023

Is anyone able to write much, if anything, at this time? This poem came, as my poems come, fast, as if in dictation, from a place of necessity, to tell someone something in the only way available to me. Part of me feels as if there has never been a genocide experienced this way - in the palms of our hands, in real time. And yet, the power of reading the testimonies of Primo Levi and Victor E. Frankl, not to ever forget Anne Frank, many years after the facts, did not render my heart any less broken. I say broken, but it is not yet so. Just chipped, cracked, rust filled, despairing of being human. This poem is dedicated to one of several young Gaza journalists I follow, like millions do, on Instagram, hoping, willing her to survive. She is Bisan Owda @wizard_bisan1, and the others are Motaz Azaiza @motaz_azaiza, Plestia Alaqad @byplestia, Yara Eid @eid_yara. Others have been killed already. I inch forward in this mural, baring my teeth through tears. 

(First image via Bisan's instagram page @wizard_bisan1
Second is a mural I am working on at home
Poem participating in DVerse Poems Open Link night)

Thursday 12 October 2023


The sunflowers my mother bought
wept over the kitchen floor 
this morning, their scent overpowering - 
wet carpets, mothballs.
Or something older, an odour
too close to human, for comfort.

A flower seems such a harmless thing,
stuck in a painted vase,
petals shaking off at the lightest touch,
or no touch at all.

And yet, I am driven far away, 
wanting nothing more of their glorious black,
the gold I sought - only days ago,
when my mother brought them home. 

(c) Shaista Tayabali, 2023

Paintings: Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
OLN night at DVerse Poets

Monday 21 August 2023


In the weeks leading up to my birthday, I try to be intentional about my gratitude. Here I still am, loved. 

I tend to myself in the ways that will fill me up for the unknown times ahead. I took the bus into town, crossed Parker's Piece and stepped into a cosy salon for a massage with baobab oil - seed oil from the tree of life (they say). I tried to infuse colour with my nieces' tenth birthday balloons in the conservatory (slightly deflated, but with original illustrations), birthday nails the colour of birthday balloons… flowers everywhere… 

Mum made a roast chicken with sweetcorn, mushrooms and potatoes on the side… And our beloved friend Joan Church whisked up the legendary chocolate cake she knows I have loved since my first bite in hospital in 2009 while I was still being weaned off a feeding tube… she learnt it was my birthday at 5pm and by 7:30 she was at the door, a cake with still warm icing, fresh from the oven, in the boot of her car!

Over the next few days, other friends stopped by. Dr Kumar with plums and then tomatoes, Dr Ly with walnuts from Vietnam, Sammy stayed the weekend while there was a wedding in the family... and a week after my birthday, I fulfilled a literary challenge set down by my friend Firdaus - to pick up the threads of my novel again! 

I sit in the conservatory and place a few sentences, a few words... like a few daubs of paint onto a canvas. A slow slow writer I am when it comes to fiction. Memoir and poetry come fast like trains and wind. A novel is slow pressure cooking for me. But if I don't keep at the cooking, a piece of my heart's desire continues to remain unfulfilled. So en avant! The poet warrior has work to do. A work of love, she hopes...

Wednesday 9 August 2023


I thought I hadn’t posted a thing since Christmas, but I have a couple of posts this year to redeem me. It gets  harder and harder to persist as long form creator when the young ‘uns are buzzing about us with TikTok reels, and YouTube shorts and everything is clipped and fleeting. My niece Bella made a first TikTok for me, and it’s fun, lively, catchy. My nephew Raf has an anime channel, and he checks the views and subscribers like a hawk. My nieces Eva and Ellie whip up comic series as an afterthought at breakfast, and the walls of Shaista land continue to be drawn and painted on, some done, some undone.

Yesterday at the infusion centre, I wore my ‘Je Suis Très Fatigué’ sweatshirt, and June (of the gold heels and immaculate fashion) advised me to never give up hope, keep the negative thoughts away, and surround myself with colour. Mostly I want to badger into the earth, and stay duvet-ed until… until when? It’s summer, and Barbie is in town.

What did I think of the movie? It was indeed berry pink, had a great soundtrack, Ryan Gosling and Kate McKinnon have fabulous comedic roles… but I stayed detached. Barbie and I were never particularly close - I preferred the softer touch of my grey worn teddy bear, my little cotton pillow, my dreams of authorship. There was something very hard and plastic about Barbie. A synthetic opacity. I did love America Ferrera’s speech about the expectations on women resulting in us never being or feeling enough. I love Greta Gerwig as writer and director… I liked being in the cinema with not only my niece, but also my brother and nephew (with him I discussed the film in great detail later that night on a doggy walk around the village). It’s ‘Both, And’ for me, to quote the extraordinary therapist, Esther Perel.

I am phenomenally tired after our family summertime together. Mentally and physically. And the beat goes on… What next? What lies undone? The desire to create, while knowing there are operations to come, an underlying infection that has not released its hold on me… and a birthday. I try to do something special, something memorable on my birthdays when there are few family and friends around… while knowing that staving off a hospital admission is really the focus of the next two weeks. Meanwhile, here's to watching the rain fall with best friends, through a looking glass... 

Thursday 11 May 2023


Plugged in
or plugged out,
no escape.

Even the monastery,
even the future 
of bees -

a stranger 
even cut down 
our trees.

We march to its beat,

© Shaista Tayabali, 2023 (shared at DVerse Open Nights)

What are your thoughts on FOMO? Fear Of Missing Out. It doesn’t feel like a young person’s social media phenomenon. It feels a very real contemplation when we are no longer (just) aware of our own mortality, but also the extinction of our planet and all species. This wire that connects us all, it’s a good thing, I think. But freedom from it… is that even possible anymore? Strangers did really cut down trees at the bottom of our garden one night in the middle of a storm. The next day, the wreckage of living beings, and shredded fences. There was no reason for it, surely, other than improving someone's internet connection? 

But then you type in 'female artist painting the internet' and you find the art of 16 year old Dimitra Milan, and suddenly you are inside a world shared only because of the wire. And I wouldn't miss this for anything. Anything, but those fallen trees.

(For more of Milan's work, here is the original link at Bored Panda and her current work.)

Monday 1 May 2023


Daisies are out for as long as the mowers keep away. The vast arms of the blossom trees cast shadow nets into which we rest, before throwing and catching the ball. I’m usually curled up in bed before we leave and then, with any luck, immediately after… Sammy curls in beside me, when nothing more fun begins to look likely. 

In the middle of tulips and crocuses and flowers that look like fried eggs, a tiny snail like a tasty snack makes of the world their oyster. So far, uncrushed, still living.

And sometimes, a gate… leading to the unknown, where wild hearts of horses run free and the mysterious scent you are following with great interest and intrigue, may never reveal itself. 

Friday 28 April 2023


My heart takes a lifetime to plunge.

Cold waters await. 
Is it worth it?
Freedom is easy to desire.

All around me,
the sounds of progress -
thunderous, clanging, male. 

Alone, half-naked, seeing blurred,
I read the verse of the first 
free women 

and inch my way in, 
to freeze and learn, 

that for me,
it is enough to be here. 

© Shaista Tayabali, 2023
Linked to dverse poets Open Link Night

It’s hard to believe I’ve been back in Cambridge for almost three months. I think I have accepted my return?! The water was so cold the day I wrote this poem… it took me an eternity to plunge my body into the pool… but knowing England was awash with snow, and I would have to face a different, darker, greyer cold, I talked my body into the blue.