The Sunday Magazine

No one puts their children in a boat unless ...

Somali-British poet Warsan Shire's meditation on what it means to be a refugee.
Syrian refugees walk up a hill as they arrive on a dinghy after crossing from Turkey to Lesbos island, Greece, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. (Credit: AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
"you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land." 
Somali-British poet Warsan Shire

That line from the poem "Home", by Somali-British poet Warsan Shire, brings home the stark reality of the horrifying decisions refugee parents must make. 

Ms. Shire is 27 years old; she was born in Kenya of Somali parents, and grew up in London, England. In 2013 she was named the city's first Young Poet Laureate. Her debut book, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, was published in 2011 by flipped eye publishing.
Yanna McIntosh (The Company Theatre)

The poem is read for The Sunday Edition by Canadian actress Yanna McIntosh.

Here's the poem:

Home, by 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 neighbours running faster 
than you, 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 would leave home unless home 
chased you, fire under feet, 
hot blood in your belly.
A group of 300 sub-Saharan Africans during a rescue operation by an Italian Finance Police vessel off the coast of Sicily, May 14, 2015. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

it's not something you ever thought about 
doing, and so when you did - 
you carried the anthem under your breath,
waiting until the airport toilet 
to tear up the passport and swallow, 
each mouthful of paper making it clear that 
you would not be going back.

you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.
Migrants hang onto flotation tubes in the sea after jumping from an overloaded wooden boat during a rescue operation 16 kilometres off the coast of Libya. August 6, 2015. (Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters)

who would choose to spend days 
and nights in the stomach of a truck
unless the miles travelled
meant something more than journey.

no one would choose to crawl under fences,
be beaten until your shadow leaves you,
raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of 
the boat because you are darker, be sold, 
starved, shot at the border like a sick animal, 
be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,
make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,
stripped and searched, find prison everywhere
and if you survive
and you are greeted on the other side 
go home blacks, refugees
dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk,
dark, with their hands out
smell strange, savage -
look what they've done to their own countries,
what will they do to ours?

the dirty looks in the street
softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life 
more tender than fourteen men who
look like your father, between
your legs, insults easier to swallow
than rubble, than your child's body
in pieces - for now, forget about pride
your survival is more important.

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 tells you to 
leave what you could not behind,
even if it was human.

no one leaves home until home
is a damp voice in your ear saying
leave, run now, i don't know what 
i've become. 


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