“No one leaves home unless/home is the mouth of a shark.” The line, by British Somali poet Warsan Shire, has become a rallying call for refugees and their advocates. Demonstrators at rallies this weekend against US president Donald Trump’s recent ban on citizens from Muslim-majority countries held up signs with lines from Shire’s poem, “Home.” A university instructor read it out loud at a protest in Omaha.
African asylum seekers in Jerusalem, mostly Sudanese and Eritreans, protesting a proposed deportation policy that would have them deported to other countries in Africa, also held signs quoting the poem over the weekend.
Shire, Somali-born in Kenya and raised in London, has been writing about the refugee experience for years. Her piece, “Conversations about home (at a deportation centre),” drafted after a 2009 visit with refugees from Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, and Congo, has echoes of her more famous poem.
Shire writes, “They ask me how did you get here? Can’t you see it on my body? The Libyan desert red with immigrant bodies, the Gulf of Aden bloated, the city of Rome with no jacket. I hope the journey meant more than miles because all of my children are in the water. I thought the sea was safer than the land.”
In “Home,” she writes:
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.
Read the full poem here.
Sign up for the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief — the most important and interesting news from across the continent, in your inbox.