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 19 October 2023


When kites fly 
across blue skies
and border divides,
Gaza and Israel unite.

We make the kites,
we fly the kites, 
over the wells of hate.

We carve the sails,
we choose the colours for the tails;
in ribbons of orange and red and green -
we speak across the steel.

When we fly kites
across blue skies,
Gaza and Israel unite.

© Shaista Tayabali, 2023

In 2011, when I watched the Dispatches documentary on the Children of Gaza, I wrote two poems. The first was for a little girl named Amal, who was nine years old, and suffering terrible migraines from the shrapnel in her head. The second was about the kite flying festival set up along the border, to foster some kind of fun and relief for Palestinian children. A competitive spirit with Israeli children followed, but years later, members of both Hamas and the IDF, grown men, used kites to set fields and warehouses alight. There was an escalation. People died, including a 15 year old Palestinian teenager. The festival was in danger of being cancelled. 
Moments after I had located this second poem, I learnt that last Saturday, the 7th of October, the Israeli family who were responsible for setting up this year’s kite flying festival, were shot by Hamas. Their kibbutz was on the border. My friend, the writer Joanne Limburg, tells me, ‘It is better to have a breakable heart than a hard one.’ So I, we, must find a new way to hope.

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. 

Friday 30 December 2022


Is the year roaring to an end for you? Will it begin with a whimper?

Or are these anthropomorphic ideas of the tiger and the rabbit? Water tiger turns to water rabbit in a day. Or, more accurately, on January 22nd. I will be travelling on that day. I think that bodes well? A return home from faraway adventures. Air borne. Lupus in flight. 

It is two thirty am. I am eating a slice of chocolate cake - fudgy, the kind I love. The house is silent. Luckily, Milo, the Tayabali Tamaruke, is asleep behind a closed bedroom door. Would he have barked if he'd seen me? Or padded comfortably down with his nocturnal mate? He has slept in my bed, on my bed, for many nights this holiday. 

Oh, did I mention I am in Singapore as I type? I remember my first blog post about the big travels I (and Mum and Dad) made in 2010, for my younger brother's wedding. And then again, to visit my year old nephew. Time hasn't flown. It has grown. We have become more of ourselves. Some parts of our lives are weightier. Some parts baffling. I cried tears of loneliness tonight, even though I am surrounded by those I love. The human heart is a mysterious thing. Hence art. Hence poetry. Of which I have written so little, I'm unsure if I still qualify as Poet.

Qualify. That word is my nemesis. What am I qualified for? I recall at my university interview, the Head of the English department asking me why I wanted to do English at university. What's the point? he asked. And he wasn't even challenging me. He seemed to be in need of answers himself. Which annoyed me. I flashed altruistic reasons at him. The purpose of literature, the transformational nature of accurate, good journalism. The need for truth in a world of propaganda and prejudice. The power of persuasion in devious, megalomaniacal hands. I remember the professor's name was John. My youthful nature must have amused him. But now, looking back, I see how one can become tired and worn down by repetition and indifference. 

What am I trying to say? Oh yes. Qualifications. Success. And the stunning necessity of art, beauty and goodness to live alongside and within, and without. I have been blessed all my life to be surrounded by art, in every home. My parents' art in homes around the world. My siblings creating artful homes, which I want to enjoy forever. My eyes have troubled me this trip. New surroundings take a while to adjust to. Once the sun sets, I falter. But a helping hand has almost always been near. Can you qualify as a successful human being if you always need help? Thich Nhat Hanh would say yes. That is interdependence. I will be travelling home on the day Thây passed into continuation. There is significance in that. Perhaps.

I hope your last day of the calendar year 2022 has some joy and peace interwoven. And that our collective unknown 2023 ... well, what can we wish for? More green on earth. More ease after darkness. For our better natures to prevail. And for those who suffer, to have the possibility of play. To play again, someday.

Monday 7 November 2022


September, October and now into November. This week marks the anniversary of the first week we walked into our Cambridge home, twenty nine years ago. People move houses like chequers on a board nowadays. And here we Tayabali mice are, scuttling up and down our corridors of old.  

Autumn is here, in the crunchiest of golden leaf. Dad can hear it as he strides the lengths. "Posture!" I remind him, half bossy, half loving. And then instantly correct my own. It's easy to turn into a wee gargoyle these days when you are still partially isolating from a virus you have managed to avoid. 

This may change in the near future... I have done the wild and bold thing and booked tickets to Asia for Christmas. I am flying into the future with the least amount of confidence I have ever felt - because since the pandemic began, I have had two vitreous detachments. The second one only occurred last month so my brain has not yet caught up to normalising these maddening floaters and black wasps whizzing across my visual landscape. 

Did you know that anger and depression/ despair are two faces of the same coin? If you could pick, which would you choose? Let me rephrase that... given a choice, you'd pick neither! If you had to pick... which one? One morning I woke up with a clear intent to embark on a PhD in Anger. Women and Anger. I'd have material galore!

Then I heard a quote by Ocean Vuong, "Care is anger evolved." So I'm thinking about it...

Summertime was Dog Central in the Tayabali household. We had Nikei the Italian corgi, Buddy senior the giant Akita, Sandy the miniature cockapoo and most recently I had Tess, an impeccably trained Labrador who had me throwing a ball 8,542 times. "Who's training whom?" said Mum, with perspicacity.

Sammy the cockapoo is still the clear favourite, and treats our home as his - he always has the air of a returning grandson. He continues to give us joy with his therapeutic hypoallergenic cuddly coat, and ability to curl onto my lap even though he doesn't really fit. 

What am I trying to say? Not very much. Just a wave hello from my falling leaf days to yours.

Artists in order: Hilma af Klint, Mary Cassatt, Helen Frankenthaler, Yayoi Kusama