This Slice of Poetry Sunday is a two-fer. I could not help myself: I am in love with Warsan Shire’s poetry. She is the creator of a sentiment that gets caught in my throat every time I read it, which was also my first introduction to her: “My alone feels so good, I’ll only have you if you’re sweeter than my solitude.” Preach. Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali poet and writer based in London. Her debut book of poetry, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, was published in 2011. At 24, Warsan Shire became London’s first ever Young Poet Laureate. Read on to see why.
Your daughter is ugly.
She knows loss intimately,
carries whole cities in her belly.
As a child, relatives wouldn’t hold her.
She was splintered wood and seawater.
She reminded them of the war.
On her fifteenth birthday you taught her
how to tie her hair like rope
and smoke it over burning frankincense.
You made her gargle rosewater
and while she coughed, said
macaanto girls like you shouldn’t smell
of lonely or empty.
You are her mother.
Why did you not warn her?
hold her like a rotting boat
and tell her that men will not love her
if she is covered in continents,
if her teeth are small colonies,
if her stomach is an island
if her thighs are borders?
What man wants to lie down
and watch the world burn
in his bedroom?
Your daughter’s face is a small riot,
her hands are a civil war,
a refugee camp behind each ear,
a body littered with ugly things.
doesn’t she wear
the world well
what they did yesterday afternoon
they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?
i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?