Poetry Friday:”Home” by Warsan Shire

Heidi Mordhorst hosts today’s Poetry Friday round-up at  My Juicy Little Universe 

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (article) | Khan Academy

Today marks the 57th. anniversary of the March on Washington.  Looking at photographs of the signs people carried then, I was struck by how many of them (just about all, actually) are sadly true and relevant today.  We have such a long way to go as a nation to be that “more perfect Union” promised in our Constitution.

Marchers with signs at the March on Washington, 1963] | Library of Congress

I discovered the poet Warsan Shire in a New Yorker profile written some years ago.  She is brilliant, and this poem of hers really resonates with me on this particular day:

Home – Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i don’t know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

10 thoughts on “Poetry Friday:”Home” by Warsan Shire

  1. I am sad most days to think that all this is happening, did happen, has been continuing all the years. The poem speaks truth, horrible and true. Thanks, Tara for sharing it.


  2. Oh, wow.
    i don’t know what i’ve become
    but i know that anywhere
    is safer than here

    That just drops like a stone, doesn’t it? Warsan Shire is brilliant. Thank you for sharing.


  3. Oh, I feel so sad just reading this and knowing how true it is for those who leave home. We need to be the safe place. I long for the time when America offers more.


  4. This poem is gutting…the repetition of “no one” who we’ve all become either by active or passive participation leaves me gulping for air. I want to read more by this poet. Thank you for sharing.


  5. Ouch. I’m thinking of all of my students whose families are immigrants. I’m thinking differently about why they chose to come here, and about our country’s appalling reception committee. May I ever be the voice that says, “I’m glad you’re here; you are valuable and valued and valid.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow. Shire’s poem is unfortunately timeless.
    The lines,
    “you only leave home
    when home won’t let you stay.” explain everything we need to know why people immigrate. Compassion goes a long way.
    Thanks for sharing this.


  7. Tara, what a sad but compelling poem pointing at truths many of us don’t want to hear. Are we not listening or are we troubled by political rhetoric. We need affirmation from our leaders that America will not continue to be a divided country. We need strength of character to move forward. Shall we rebrand Home so it becomes a place for all?

    Liked by 1 person

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