Thursday 29 February 2024


I took myself for a walk today. My body aches, lately. Ha! Lately? For the past thirty years kind of lately... but yes, this sludge like treacle we move through while attached to our phones receiving news of a genocide adds a new layer of ache. When the doctors found a murmur on my ten year old heart, they kept an eye on it even as I moved countries. Lately... oh that word again... my heart is heavier, the beats a little unsteadier. "I think I'd like to send you to Papworth if you don't mind," said my cardiologist a few weeks ago. For an MRI at the big fancy heart hospital. "Anything I should know? Any questions for me?" she asked. She's lovely, and Northern Irish, so I think she would have been fine with me responding with the truth. "The children," I would have said. "The children of Gaza." I don't know what the figures are for bombed, amputated, under the rubble, but as we know, they are not numbers. Each one has a name. Although the ones who knew their names, who could write their names on the tiny white shrouds, are also gone. Motaz Azaiza, our traumatised young heroic journalist, puts it this way: "They passed," he says. I find his way of commenting on unjust death very moving. Sparse and factual, laden with helplessness, and yet, dignified. Even as he witnesses a physical reality beyond the language any one of us possesses. In war time, photographers from foreign western lands, are often given the wealthiest noblest prizes for capturing children on fire or dying. Motaz is Palestinian, and the people he photographs are family, friends, neighbours. The blood of his blood. No award or prize will ever ease his psychological torment.

On Valentine's Day, I took myself for a walk, because my body was aching, and I know there are snowdrops ‘out there’ and aconites and the beginnings of daffodils. There are bridges with river water, and even birdsong. There was unexpectedly more. I walked past the village hall and was invited in for the monthly Wednesday tea and cake. My first thought is often no, instinctive to avoid gatherings. Not just a pandemic protection, but a social defence. Years of "so what are you up to these days?" Now I find I can talk more easily having been accepted as The Daughter Who Lives With Beloved Parents. I have somehow moved into a more accepted phase. Not quite old, not too young. Just... a person. The Elders were glad to have me. I ate a slice of apple pie, and then washed up as many cups and saucers as I could before linking arms with a friend and walking on. "Rage helps keep my tears at bay," she said. It's nice having friends who know.

What now? The clock ticks on. The calendar advances. "We are living through a very dark time," my mother acknowledges. And that comforts me too. Dad asked me to start reading the autobiography of Sister Chân Không a day or two before we heard the news of the young US soldier, Aaron Bushnell, setting himself on fire in protest against American military aid to Israel and solidarity with the suffering of Gazans. Sister Chân Không witnessed the burning of the monk Thích Quảng Đửc on June 11, 1963. Speaking of photographs that won prizes… I could post it here. But you have already seen it. Maybe even at the time it flew around the world. My heavy heart, my heavy heart. It was never designed for this live witnessing of the worst of who we are to each other. So instead, some blossom and a poem, and later, perhaps a walk. It has been a good year for snowdrops.

every time I ever said I want to die
By Andrea Gibson

A difficult life is not less
worth living than a gentle one.
Joy is simply easier to carry
than sorrow. And your heart 
could lift a city from how long
you’ve spent holding what’s been
nearly impossible to hold.

This world needs those
who know how to do that.
Those who could find a tunnel
that has no light at the end of it,
and hold it up like a telescope
to know the darkness
also contains truths that could
bring the light to its knees.

Grief astronomer, adjust the lens,
look close, tell us what you see.

Sunday 21 January 2024


Our beloved friend, Annette Rowntree-Clifford née Johanna Abrahamsohn, died in December. She was nearly a hundred, so she knew life in all its shades of horror and glory. Some years ago, Annette's granddaughter wrote a beautiful poem about her Granny being a bird, flitting from room to room, 'her wings are deep blue folded cardigans and tucked inside are her stories'. Emily's poem was read at Annette's eulogy yesterday, and so, I believe, was the poem below, which I had written for Annette many years ago when I visited her. After the long drive to Leicester from Cambridge, I had to be put to bed like a small tired bear. Annette tucked me cosily into one of her grown up children's bedrooms. I felt frustrated as always by my time stealing illness. Precious time with Annette and Hugh lost because of my unruly body. 

Hugh was a lifelong friend, at school and later at Oxford, of my father's brother Sadiq, and Dad spent all his summer vacations staying with the Cliffords while he was a medical student at St. Andrews. As Mum and Dad laughed and shared tea and stories together with their dear friends, I wrote this upstairs in bed: 

Moving Plates

The perfect home
has something sentimental
resting side by side
with the practical.

Everything a meaning,

a memory,
a moment - even the broken,
the chipped china,

but especially the hand woven
crochet craft work,
and the little notes
you write yourself -

you leave for us
a forget-me-not trail
winding all the way

to 1939
when the plates
          of your atlas
moved forever.

I do feel tired and heavy these days. And not because it is winter, and dark after four o'clock. After all, there are many blessings as always - not least that Dad and I walked down to the railway line twice this past week. I saw the sun and hustled Dad out. At the end of the driveway, I expected he would want to turn back as always. Expecting that, I hesitantly stepped out into the road and was met by blithe acceptance on his part. 'Anytime you want to stop and turn back, we can, ok Dad?' 'I'm fine!' he assured me, reassured me. So on we went. On - on - and out of sight.

Annette brought good cheer always. In person, over the telephone and in gifts. When I was a teenager, Annette sent me a huge postcard with one of A. A. Milne's Christopher Robin and Pooh sketches on the front. It was so special to me then, and has continued to be near me since. Wherever I have lived - home, university, rented annexe, garden shanny - I have blue tacked the postcard to a handy wall. Pooh is not just for children. Annette understood things like that. She 'got you' in the words of her son Tony. To have such people in my life - people who 'get me' - my heart should be a singing bird at all times. But. War, injustice and poverty make that impossible. 

Tony ended the eulogy for Annette with another poem. This one by a poet made famous by a war. Siegfried Sassoon had a Jewish father, like Annette and her sister Gretel did. In 1914, Siegfried, being an enthusiastic Cambridge and Kent boy, was drawn into the English army. In 1939, Annette and Gretel, being German Jews, were shepherded to England on the kinder transport, waving goodbye at the train station to the parents they would never see again. Never again. Words we hear a lot of, but not fully meant - never again, for everyone. Did you know that Sassoon's father was a Baghdadi Jew, from an Iraqi family who had settled in Bombay? And did you know that Sassoon was sent to Palestine to 'recuperate from shell-shock' - the party line taken by a government angered by the anti-war poetry and speeches made by their tall, handsome, exceptionally brave soldier?  Siegfried Sassoon wrote poetry in the spring of 1918, in Gaza and Ramallah, Palestine. He wrote, 'On the rock strewn hills I heard/ The anger of guns that shook/ Echoes along the glen./ In my heart was the song of a bird,/ And the sorrowless tale of the brook,/ And scorn for the deeds of men.' The bird he was listening to was a bulbul, whose song was heard often by my parents when we lived in Bombay. The discovery of these connections has made me happy. Annette is lifting my heart even as I write these words. 'It's complicated,' everyone says. As if a single life isn't complicated enough to fill trilogies. All we can hope is that as we near the end of our own complicated life, everyone lifts their voices to sing our tale. 

Everyone Sang

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight,
As prison birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on - on - and out of

Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror,
Drifted away ... O, but Everyone 
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing
will never be done.

(photo of bulbul by Sunjoy Monga via Conde Nast Traveller)

Friday 5 January 2024


Whose woods these are, I think I know;
They belong to my friends, Coco and Joe.

What if there were no fear, or loss,
but hawthorn berry, instead?

What if I could tell
hazel and maple apart,

not because one had more beauty -
there are rosehips, don’t forget,

and Vibernum Opulis
and crushed, scented pine.

Some catkins are soft green 
caterpillars, plush with rain.

I learn a new story now
and again - like how rosemary 

got her name - Rose Marinus -
‘dew of the sea’.

Everything ages. The cork
of the field maple marries moss,

and somewhere in the low bramble,
wild strawberries; 

deeper still, the badger sett,
a whole world underneath.

And high above, birds calling.
‘Where do birds go when they die?’

Joe asks. ‘Why don’t they fall 
in great heaps from the sky?’

Perhaps Merlin knew. Or Arthur, 
when he was a boy, not exiled king.

What if we could go home?
What if we were found, instead?

Poets Open Link Night at dversepoets

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.