“no one leaves home unless / home is the mouth of a shark,” writes Warsan Shire in her poem “Home,” which has become a rallying cry against President Donald Trump’s widely protested refugee ban.
Shire, the Somali-British poet whom Beyoncé quoted extensively in Lemonade, came to the UK from Kenya with her family when she was just a year old. She was London’s first Young Poet Laureate in 2014, and in her writing she draws extensively on the immigrant experience, which she describes as both rich and surreal.
It’s rich, she said in a 2013 interview, because it offers possibility:
When I went to Kenya, even though I can’t speak the language, I felt like that was my country; and I walk around here (the UK) and I feel like this is my country; and I go to America and I think ‘this is my country.’ Displacement — it hurts but it also creates so much possibility. I really love that idea of the in-between space as rich with that potential and something you can carry with you wherever you go.
And it’s surreal because it creates so much juxtaposition that should not make sense:
One day you are in your country, having fun, drinking mango juice, and the next day you are in the underground in London and your children are speaking to you in a language you don’t understand. The mundane is made strange, and vice versa.
In “Home,” Shire focuses in on the horror that creates displacement. She writes:
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.
In the aftermath of the ban, as America turns away thousands of refugees seeking safety, “Home” feels shockingly relevant. And accordingly, protesters around the world have begun quoting the poem at rallies, reports Quartz Africa.
“Home” is a reminder that refugees do not willfully, maliciously come to a country to do harm — they are forced out of their homes by violent atrocities, unwillingly. People do not become refugees for the fun of it, “Home” says, but because they were forced to, and so it is our responsibility as human beings to offer aid to our fellow human beings in need.