Poetry Break: Warsan Shire’s “Home” and the refugee crisis

“You have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” 

This morning, Katherine wrote about Europe’s violent treatment of refugees and why American feminists should take note if it. I absolutely agree. So to take note, I’m starting off by sharing the writings of Somali-British poet Warsan Shire, who as Poetry International explains, “uses her work to both celebrate and document the lives of women: in relationships, in various kinds of trauma, in war, in daily life.”

Europe’s policies of letting people drown in the Mediterranean are cruel violations of universal human rights, and as Katherine notes, the virulent racism that girds these policies is horrifying. So too is the inability of people to understand why refugees and migrants are moving. Shire responds powerfully to all of these violent systems and beliefs in her work, most notably in her poem “Home.”

Nothing I have read in the past few weeks has stuck with me more than that line above. “You have to understand,” Shire writes, “that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” That “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.”

As Poetry International writes, “her poems are rooted in the life of the body, but it is a body strongly connected to the soul and to other people. Her poems are about how we live with and in ourselves – in the case of so many women, as objects.” In “Conversations About Home (at the Deportation Centre)”, She writes:

Well, I think home spat me out, the blackouts and curfews like tongue against loose tooth. God, do you know how difficult it is, to talk about the day your own city dragged you by the hair, past the old prison, past the school gates, past the burning torsos erected on poles like flags? When I meet others like me I recognise the longing, the missing, the memory of ash on their faces. No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. I’ve been carrying the old anthem in my mouth for so long that there’s no space for another song, another tongue or another language. I know a shame that shrouds, totally engulfs. I tore up and ate my own passport in an airport hotel. I’m bloated with language I can’t afford to forget.

Check out an interview with Shire here. Read the rest of “Home'” here and rest of “Conversations About Home” here. Listen to Shire’s digital album here. And translate that interest into commitment: here are financial ways you can support refugees; you can also ask your Congressperson to push the United States to actually accept more refugees.

Header Image Credit: Reuters

Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

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