Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Warsan Shire’s teaching my mother how to give birth

I wish for all the world I had discovered her sooner. Warsan Shire’s teaching my mother how to give birth> was published in 2011 and her poems transcend time. If you know any women or are female you are going to want to read this. Born in Kenya as a Somali, now based in London, Warsan captures the nitty gritty of every woman you’ve ever met or happen to be yourself. Her words are dynamic, at times acidic, at times tender. She is honest, earthy, and opens up the reader with a razor they never knew was being applied. I urge you to obtain a copy of this collection, please savor these poems:


Sofia used pigeon blood on her wedding night.
Next day, over the phone, she told me
how her husband smiled when he saw the sheets,

that he gathered them under his nose,
closed his eyes and dragged his tongue over the stain.
She mimicked his baritone, how he whispered

her name—Sofia,
pure, chaste, untouched.
We giggled over the static.

After he had praised her, she smiled, rubbed his head,
imagined his mother back home, parading
these siren sheets through the town,

waving at balconies, torso swollen with pride,
her arms fleshy wings bound to her body,
ignorant of flight.

This poem isn’t for those who shy away from intimacy and women’s experiences. All over the world women are raised to keep their virginity for their husband. This poem illustrates the lengths women will go to protect their husband’s perception of them. It also beckons to how families present their values, the pride and the joy that comes with keeping family traditions. The reactions may seem dramatic but it is a dramatic moment, the consummation of marriage. I love that Warsan Shire is “no holds barred” in her portrayal.


On the drive to the hotel, you remember
the funeral you went to as a little boy,
double burial for a couple who
burned to death in their bedroom.
The wife had been visited
by her husband’s lover,
a young and beautiful woman who paraded
her naked body in the couple’s kitchen,
lifting her dress to expose breasts
mottled with small fleshy marks,
a back sucked and bruised, then dressed herself
and walked out the front door.
The wife, waiting for her husband to come home,
doused herself in lighter fluid. On his arrival
she jumped on him, wrapping her legs around
his torse. The husband, surprised at her sudden urge,
carried his wife to the bedroom, where
she straddled him on their bed, held his face
against her chest and lit a match.

This is a poem that I struggle to say anything about because the poem says it all. As a spouse, I can imagine the kind of rage that would cause such an extreme reaction. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” could easily be the title of this poem. When I read it, I felt all the emotions that the wife must have felt and while initially surprised at the ending I also completely, deeply understood them to my core. What I really want to know is how you reacted?

From: Conversations About Home
(at the Deportation Centre)

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.

A prose about refugee life that reaches deep. I often cry when I see how careless people are about immigrants coming to our country, how rare do you know their tragic back story. If we all knew the refugee as an individual I believe we would be far more open minded with a far more open heart. Here, Shire captures the feelings, the images, and the disconnect within one’s soul of a woman displaced from her country of origin. The feeling there is nowhere safe to sleep, whether it’s your own country or someone else’s. The raw images blow me away in this poem.

If you were struck by these poems, I would urge you to obtain a copy for yourself. You can purchase Warsan Shire’s teaching my mother how to give birth in paperback or via Kindle at:

While she isn’t active on Facebook I did read an interview that she is on Twitter, so please know that she is on social media and has more work out there. The link to the excellent interview I read about this collection and how Warsan Shire came to be who she is, is here:

Thanks always for reading, please drop in again soon.