Warsan Shire, Young Poet Laureate of London 2013-14,reads her poem “Home” with animation by Garrett Mogge, Halle Voos, Haley Parsley, and Abigail Pelton. Here is the text of the poem:
Home 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 pitied
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
the go home blacks refugees dirty immigrants asylum seekers sucking our country dry niggers with their hands out they smell strange savage 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 drown save be hunger beg forget pride your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear saying- leave, run away from me now i dont know what i’ve become but i know that anywhere is safer than here
In an interview after she won the Brunel University African Poetry Prize, Warsan Shire was asked to talk about the sense of urgency in her work. In response, Shire said:
I’m from Somalia where there has been a war going on for my entire life. I grew up with a lot of horror in the backdrop – a lot of terrible things that have happened to people who are really close to me, and to my country, and to my parents; so it’s in the home and it’s even in you, it’s on your skin and it’s in your memories and your childhood. And my relatives and my friends and my mother’s friends have experienced things that you can’t imagine, and they’ve put on this jacket of resiliency and a dark humour. But you don’t know what they’ve been victims of, or what they’ve done to other people. Them being able to tell me, and then me writing it, it’s cathartic, being able to share their stories, even if it is something really terrible, something really tragic. Sometimes I’m telling other people’s stories to remove stigma and taboo, so that they don’t have to feel ashamed; sometimes you use yourself as an example.