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A woman hold her child as migrants and refugees wait to be allowed to cross the Macedonian borders, near the northern Greek village of Idomeni, Friday, Dec. 4, 2015.Petros Giannakouris/The Associated Press

The following is the text of a poem cited in William A. Macdonald's essay There's a big risk in doing too little for Syrian refugees.

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 neighbours running faster

than you, 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 would leave home unless home

chased you, fire under feet,

hot blood in your belly.

it's not something you ever thought about

doing, and so when you did –

you carried the anthem under your breath,

waiting until the airport toilet

to tear up the passport and swallow,

each mouthful of paper making it clear that

you would not be going back.

you have to understand,

no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land.

who would choose to spend days

and nights in the stomach of a truck

unless the miles travelled

meant something more than journey.

no one would choose to crawl under fences,

be beaten until your shadow leaves you,

raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of

the boat because you are darker, be sold,

starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,

be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,

make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,

stripped and searched, find prison everywhere

and if you survive

and you are greeted on the other side with

go home blacks, refugees

dirty immigrants, asylum seekers

sucking our country dry of milk,

dark, with their hands out

smell strange, savage –

look what they've done to their own countries,

what will they do to ours?

the dirty looks in the street

softer than a limb torn off,

the indignity of everyday life

more tender than fourteen men who

look like your father, between

your legs, insults easier to swallow

than rubble, than your child's body

in pieces – for now, forget about pride

your survival is more important.

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 tells you to

leave what you could not behind,

even if it was human.

no one leaves home until home

is a damp voice in your ear saying

leave, run now, i don't know what

i've become.


About the author: Born in Kenya, Warsan Shine came to Britain with her Somali parents at the age of one. Now 27, she has a degree in creative writing and lives in London, having won Brunel University's inaugural African Poetry Prize in 2013 and last year been appointed the city's first Young Poet Laureate.

As well as teaching, conducting workshops and serving as poetry editor for the cultural magazine, Spook, she has spent time in Australia as a poet-in-residence and is currently writing her first full volume of verse.

Meanwhile, the notion of "home" remains elusive. "I still feel very homeless – I live in London and have been here nearly my whole life, but it is a difficult city to connect to …," she told an interviewer. "Maybe home is somewhere I'm going and never have been before."

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