Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, Warsan Shire

This month, I have been drowning in text. Every day, even on the weekends, I’m writing. It gets easier for a while, this habit, and then it becomes harder, because other people still need things from me, and my brain is always on the page and never on them. It’s the curse of November.

It’s gotten too difficult to read novels at this point, so I picked up this slim volume of poetry by Warsan Shire instead. I’d seen her work floating around before, but this was the first time I’d sat and read with full attention. Her poetry is gut-wrenching and raw, but when I was finished with her book, my soul felt fuller for having read it.

The poem below was my favorite from the book, and every time I read it, I’m brought to this difficult and amazing place of thinking about how hard a place the world can be.

Conversations About Home (at the Deportation Centre)

Well, I think home spat me out, the blackouts and curfews like tongue against loose tooth. God, do you know how difficult it is, to talk about the day your own city dragged you by the hair, past the old prison, past the school gates, past the burning torsos erected on poles like flags? When I meet others like me I recognise the longing, the missing, the memory of ash on their faces. No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. I’ve been carrying the old anthem in my mouth for so long that there’s no space for another song, another tongue or another language. I know a shame that shrouds, totally engulfs. I tore up and ate my own passport in an airport hotel. I’m bloated with language I can’t afford to forget.

*

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. I want to make love, but my hair smells of war and running and running. I want to lay down, but these countries are like uncles who touch you when you’re young and asleep. Look at all these borders, foaming at the mouth with bodies broken and desperate. I’m the colour of hot sun on the face, my mother’s remains were never buried. I spent days and nights in the stomach of the truck; I did not come out the same. Sometimes it feels like someone else is wearing my body.

*

I know a few things to be true. I do not know where I am going, where I have come from is disappearing, I am unwelcome and my beauty is not beauty here. My body is burning with the shame of not belonging, my body is longing. I am the sin of memory and the absence of memory. I watch the news and my mouth becomes a sink full of blood. The lines, the forms, the people at the desks, the calling cards, the immigration officer, the looks on the street, the cold settling deep into my bones, the English classes at night, the distance I am from home. But Alhamdulilah all of this is better than the scent of a woman completely on fire, or a truckload of men who look like my father, pulling out my teeth and nails, or fourteen men between my legs, or a gun, or a promise, or a lie, or his name, or his manhood in my mouth.

*

I hear them say go home, I hear them say fucking immigrants, fucking refugees. Are they really this arrogant? Do they not know that stability is like a lover with a sweet mouth upon your body one second; the next you are a tremor lying on the floor covered in rubble and old currency waiting for its return. All I can say is, I was once like you, the apathy, the pity, the ungrateful placement and now my home is the mouth of a shark, now my home is the barrel of a gun. I’ll see you on the other side. )loc 327)

 

For more on Warsan Shire, head here.

9 thoughts on “Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, Warsan Shire

  1. That’s horrific :( such powerful literature to take you out of your comfort zone and force you to inhabit someone else’s trauma like that. Brilliant writing, I’ll look her up.

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