Gimbling in the Wabe – “Home” by Warsan Shire

by Sharon Browning

Poet and activist Warsan Shire

April is National Poetry Month, and in honor of that I am stepping a bit out of my comfort zone and posting poems that have spoken to me personally. This week, I give to you a powerful and heart breaking poem by Warsan Shire, a poet and activist who was born in Kenya to Somali parents. The family immigrated to London when Warsan was a young child; she currently spends most of her time in Los Angeles. (You may recognize her name from Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade, where her work figured prominently.)

This poem, Home, has been used extensively when addressing the issue of refugees; portions of this work have been called “a rallying call for refugees and their advocates.”

I challenge you to read this poem and put yourself in place of the unnamed refugees depicted. Each and every line. It’s not a question of if it could happen, it’s that it has happened, to hundreds of thousands of people. Human lives. Lives we could help. Read this poem, and weep if you must, but then recognize the tragic humanity in it, and act.

~ Sharon Browning


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 toilets
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
n***ers 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 dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

~ Warsan Shire

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