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What is “Home”?

Heiwot Woldeyes, Noella Maombi, Jason Garcia, Jermaine Bamureke, Rubinah Adul Rahim, Nsiemi (Doxa)  Nkelani, Marvin Giron Cortez, Rashidi Manuel, Hajir Mohammed, Arlett Sanabria Arlett, Abdullahi Mberwa, Landu Nkelani, Mwajuma Mateso, Basiesi Nkelani, & Zeinab Osman | CONTRIBUTORS

Warsan Shire was born in Kenya to Somali parents and lives in London. She is a poet, writer, editor, and teacher. In 2013-2014, she was the Young Poet Laureate for London. Shire wrote “Conversations about home (at a deportation centre)” in 2009, a piece inspired by a visit she made to the abandoned Somali Embassy in Rome which some young refugees had turned into their home. In an interview, she told the reporter “The night before she visited, a young Somali had jumped to his death off the roof.” The encounter, she says, opened her eyes to the harsh reality of living as an undocumented refugee in Europe: “I wrote the poem for them, for my family and for anyone who has experienced or lived around grief and trauma in that way.”

This poem became the basis for “Home,” printed below. “Home” has been shared extensively through the digital and written world. Because of the poems ability to cut straight through you with the depth of its authenticity even in metaphor, it presented itself as a great opportunity to annotate with the immigrant and refugee populated classrooms here at Aurora Central High School. To a degree, Warsan’s story is an Aurora Story due to the vastness of this population in our community. We continue to champion, support, and empathies the best we can and we look to our immigrant and refugee neighbors to continue the discussion of “What is home?”

In this A Story exclusive, students; Heiwot Woldeyes, Noella Maombi, Jason Garcia, Jermaine Bamureke, Rubinah Adul Rahim, Nsiemi (Doxa)  Nkelani, Marvin Giron Cortez, Rashidi Manuel, Hajir Mohammed, Arlett Sanabria Arlett, Abdullahi Mberwa, Landu Nkelani, Mwajuma Mateso, Basiesi Nkelani, & Zeinab Osman take us on Shire’s journey through their voices.


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 toilet

sobbing as each mouthful of paper

made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

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

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

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear



run away from me now

i dont know what i’ve become

but i know that anywhere

is safer than here


In an interview after she won the Brunel University African Poetry Prize, Warsan Shire was asked to talk about her sense of commitment to substance and urgent subject matter in her work. In response, Shire said:

I’m from Somalia where there has been a war going on for my entire life. I grew up with a lot of horror in the backdrop – a lot of terrible things that have happened to people who are really close to me, and to my country, and to my parents; so it’s in the home and it’s even in you, it’s on your skin and it’s in your memories and your childhood. And my relatives and my friends and my mother’s friends have experienced things that you can’t imagine, and they’ve put on this jacket of resiliency and a dark humor. But you don’t know what they’ve been victims of, or what they’ve done to other people. Them being able to tell me, and then me writing it, it’s cathartic, being able to share their stories, even if it is something really terrible, something really tragic. Sometimes I’m telling other people’s stories to remove stigma and taboo, so that they don’t have to feel ashamed; sometimes you use yourself as an example.


1.  Marta Bausells and Maeve Shearlaw, “Poets speak out for refugees: ‘No one leaves home, unless home is the mouth of a shark,’” The Guardian, September 16, 2015.

2. Warsan Shire, “Home,”, September 2, 2015, accessed August 24, 2016.

3. Katie Reid, “Q&A: Poet, writer and educator Warsan Shire,” African Words blog, June 21, 2013, accessed September 13, 2016.

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