Monday, April 22, 2019


In October, 2018, we chatted with my friend Shaista Tayabali, who lives in Cambridge, England, and blogs at Lupus In Flight. As her blog name suggests, Shaista lives with the ongoing challenges of lupus, and these last months have been difficult ones for her. One night I read the following poem, and thought you might like to read it, too,  and hear how she is doing. She is such a lovely girl, and poet, beloved of all who know her. Let's pour some Lady Grey tea, and have a wee visit across the Pond with Shaista.

I saw a swan sip the river today 
And I worried about plastic.
I was relieved when I saw the bread
Someone had flung over, enthusiastic.

I saw a counsellor today. 
Except he turned out not to be one. 
I am a psychiatric nurse, he said,
And you are not a problem. 

My kind of problem, he meant, 
and he meant it kindly.
No suicide for him that day,
And he was surely glad of it.

But I had been longing for a place to grieve, 
To weep my river of sorrows.
Instead I walked to the graveyard,
And paused beside the bridge;

I watched the swan sip,
And sunlight dip,
On the swan’s soft fluffy pillow.
And I tucked my tears up, under. 

Shaista: I posted this poem in the middle of the night...when I woke up, I woke up to International Women's Day...and my first thought was, 'Oh no. I ought to have posted something of inspiring value, of recognition at least of the wonder of other women, if not of myself.' Instead I had posted about mournfully gazing at swans after a very peculiar twenty minutes with a psychiatric nurse who didn't think there was anything wrong with me.

This desire to be of service, and be in gratitude, is a powerful instinct in me, and has driven my voice for most of my blog, because it is authentic to who I am. And yet, so much of what we suffer is the silence in between ‘How are you?’ and ‘I’m fine!’ Or even, ‘I’m alright.’ Or even, ‘Not great, to be honest, but I’ll be ok.’ A sort of self therapy we all practise because we are aware that the eyes of the gods are watching us for hints of ingratitude. And we wish that nothing worse might befall us. 

The first crocuses!

But here in the place of poetry I do feel safe. Or maybe because Sherry is here, and she is my friend, our friend, keeping us sheltered from storms for a little while, even as she calls herself Wild Woman, which means she is out there in the storm herself. 

Thank you dear readers, for accompanying me on that bridge. Perhaps the swans were you, in a different form, in a moment that has looped back to scoop me up. 

Sherry: I hope those swans reminded you that you have friends who love you, in many places in the world, who so admire your ability to see the beauty of swans, even on the difficult days. 

Thank you for this poem, which touches our hearts. You remind us that, while we try to maintain an attitude of gratitude, there are times that are tough. This is real. We all can relate to those times. We all need someone or somewhere to share those tearful moments. (And the counsellor is a ninny, in my judicial opinion. Smiles.)

Dear girl,  you are young woman, walking bravely through the hard days, and bringing us swans. I am reminded of my son Jeff, who once told me, “to understand a swan, you have to learn how to cry.” I thought that was beautiful.

 Shaista's book of poems and sketches is available here.

Thank you, Shaista. You always touch our hearts. And thank you, dear readers, for being a soft place to fall for our fellow poets. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who Knows? It might be you!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Poetry Pantry #477

No copyright infringement intended.

We wish you Happy Easter on this special Sunday, if you are one of the many who celebrate this day. And a very happy and holy Passover to our friends in the Jewish community. 

Happy New Year wishes  to our dear friends in India! 

Happy Solstice / Happy Spring, from all of us at Poets United! We hope you are enjoying a beautiful spring Sunday, and that the snow is all gone. We don't want the Easter Bunny to get cold feet!

We had an interesting week at Poets United, discussing Magaly's new prose feature. Thank you for participating, and for being willing to stretch, if prose is a new direction for you. On Friday, Rosemary featured a very moving poem by Nancy Willard. Do scroll back, if you missed it. It is lovely. Next Friday I will introduce you to another Tofino poet, and there is a very cool short video to enjoy as well, a dance on the shore by the wild women of Chesterman Beach. Smiles. We hope you stop by and check it out.

This Monday, we are sharing a poem by Shaista Tayabali, the young woman who blogs at Lupus In Flight. We think you will be very moved by her poem about living with a serious illness. On Wednesday the Midweek Motif will be Almond Blossoms by Vincent Van Gogh. That sounds  intriguing.

For now, let's dive into the Pantry. Link your poem,  leave a comment to let us know how you're doing, and remember to visit your fellow poets in the spirit of reciprocity. Thank you for being here every Sunday. We wouldn't be here without you!

Friday, April 19, 2019

I Wish I'd WrittenThis

Swimming Lessons

A mile across the lake, the horizon bare
or nearly so: a broken sentence of birches.
No sand. No voices calling me back.
Waves small and polite as your newly washed hair
push the slime-furred pebbles like pawns,
an inch here. Or there.

You threaded five balsa blocks on a strap
and buckled them to my waist, a crazy life
vest for your lazy little daughter.
Under me, green deepened to black.
You said, “Swim out to the deep water.”
I was seven years old. I paddled forth

and the water held me. Sunday you took away
one block, the front one. I stared down
at my legs, so small, so nervous and pale,
not fit for a place without roads.
Nothing in these depths had legs or need of them
except the toeless foot of the snail.

Tuesday you took away two more blocks.
Now I could somersault and stretch.
I could scratch myself against trees like a cat.
I even made peace with the weeds that fetch
swimmers in the noose of their stems
while the cold lake puckers and preens.

Friday the fourth block broke free. “Let it go,”
you said. When I asked you to take
out the block that kept jabbing my heart,
I felt strong. This was the sixth day.
For a week I wore the only part
of the vest that bothered to stay:

a canvas strap with nothing to carry.
The day I swam away from our safe shore,
you followed from far off, your stealthy oar
raised, ready to ferry me home
if the lake tried to keep me.
Now I watch the tides of your body

pull back from the hospital sheets.
“Let it go,” you said. “Let it go.”
My heart is not afraid of deep water.
It is wearing its life vest,
that invisible garment of love
and trust, and it tells you this story.

By Nancy Willard (1936-2017)

During the 'poetry month' of April, the publisher Knopf emails poems from its collections to anyone who signs up for this service – which I did some years ago.  I very much enjoy receiving the poems every April. They are all of high calibre, often beautiful, always interesting. This year, this one particularly caught my eye.

How seamlessly it slides from the father teaching his daughter, so lovingly and intelligently, not only to swim but to be at home and unafraid in the water, to the daughter at her father's deathbed, able to help him let go, and to let him go, buoyed by the love and trust he gave her. I love the calm, assured tone of that realisation.

The notes which accompanied the poem in my inbox tell me that Willard was a novelist as well as a poet, and 'a beloved author of books for children, whose 1982 picture book, A Visit to William Blake's Inn, received the Newbery Medal.' As a former children's librarian, I'm impressed. The Newbery is a very big deal. Her obituary in The New York Times adds that it was the first book of poetry to receive the Newbery. 

She also wrote novels for adults. The obituary goes on to call her, 'a prolific author whose 70 books of poems and fiction enchanted children and adults alike with a lyrical blend of fanciful illusion and stark reality.'

It includes some wonderful things she said about writing, e.g.

'Most of us grow up and put magic away with other childish things. But I think we can all remember a time when magic was as real to us as science, and the things we couldn’t see were as important as the things we could. I believe that all small children and some adults hold this view together with the scientific ones. I also believe that the great books for children come from those writers who hold both.'

I now want to read a lot more of Nancy Willard! And I can; there are pages and pages of her works on Amazon, many in Kindle and Audible versions as well as paperback. I've just done the 'Look inside' with a few of them, and am enchanted.


Material shared in 'I Wish I'd Written This' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors. This photo of Nancy Willard is in the Public Domain.