Home by Warsan Shire

Battlefield: Everyday, Indigenous Peoples battle with governments and corporations to retain control of their ancestral lands. This image, taken in 2014, is of a Brazilian indigenous woman being evicted by Brazilian government forces from her ancestral lands. (Photo Luiz Vasconcelos/Reuters)

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.

Hundreds of thousand of Indigenous Peoples continue to live in displacement camps. This photo taken in 2015 is of the Manobo Lumad people living in one such camp in Davao City, Philippines. They are still there today. (Photo Karlos Manlupig/Mindanao Inquirer)


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
niggers 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


Militarization of ancestral lands always leads to violations of indigenous rights. this 2014 photo is of five West Papuan youth shot and killed by Indonesian security forces. In 2011, more than 11,000 West Papuans were forced to flee their homes due to militarization. (Photo from West Papuan activists which appeared on New Matilda)

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

For Indigenous Peoples, land means life. To be separated from their lands is a virtual death sentence. This indigenous man was forced to leave his ancestral home by Brazilian security forces in 2015. (Photo Human Rights in Latin America)

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i don’t know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here


*Warsan Shire is a Somali writer, poet, editor and teacher.