Friday Love: Warsan Shire


Warsan Shire’s poetry leaves us breathless and aflame. She is a Kenyan-born Somali poet and writer based in London. Born in 1988, she is an artist and activist who uses her work to document narratives of journey and trauma. Follow her blogTwitter and tumblr and get her book, Teaching my mother how to give birth, here

“The Letter My Mother Would Have Written Had She Known English” by Warsan Shire

Dear Daughter

The women in our family are known for their lucid hearts

For the frightening vigour with which they love

And they way they let men eat from their open chests

As if their insides alone could offer redemption

As if their flesh could create portals for men to escape

The ugliness that they themselves created in this world.

If I could do it all again

I would’ve raise u in the sergenti

Where we could face east five times a day together and pray

Where the simple things would leave me enough time to tell you how much I love you

Daughter, I would raise you with my knees and fingertips

Small mercies would make u pious and all my children would love me more

Our faces would be ash covered

Hair laden with the winds of the harmattan

Your father would see the beauty in me that can only exist when he looks at me

And my stretch marks would be worth it all.

But this reality is not in shades of pink

Like the dolls with the fake smiles that you would

Point at, and I would say inch Allah

Knowing that I could never afford them.

In Africa I was so beautiful

On the plane here

My husband stopped seeing me.

Here I would be compared to a woman with blue eyes

And a clitoris


I am not beautiful

Here I’m sorry

Here you can leave a wife and two children

And income support and child benefit

Can take the fathers place at the kitchen table.

I wish I had held you when your father left

But the insides of my ribs were still dented

And to touch you would’ve

Been as painful as love itself.

I want to leave you with more than empty picture frames

And moments that could be classed as Kodak if they had ever taken place

But this countries weather had the ability to sink into the bone of you

You learn that being an asylum seeker will mean u have malaria instead of the flu.

I know the taste of translation

And if my lips own any hesitation

It’s because semantic and lexis has us separated

In Somali syllables are soft

So they can’t solidify all the things

We have left unsaid

Perhaps the fact that you think in English

Is proof enough that we have a gap

Wider than the tongue and tooth

You wanted us to be.

I taught you

To be proud of your religion

And pray for your brothers at Guantanamo bay

Never fight a woman for a man

And make sure that love exists through actions

Not plans

Wash your under wear every night and watch out for

Demons who dance on your back if you sleep on your chest

To be afraid of the in-betweens and call in children at Maghreb

Make sure windows stay closed after sunset

To shudder

When a shoe is turned upside down

And what prayers to read before entering the bathroom

And leaving the house

And how u should never answer to a voice you can’t see

Calling your name

Even if it sounds like it belongs to your mother

That déjàvu doesn’t exist in Africa

Neither does surviving aids

And that men will always say they love you

That trusting too much will be the death of you

That children with faces of old people turn out the best

And adults that like to touch small children

Burn in hell

But as a mother who literally could not help her children with their homework,

That right there is already all my pride swallowed.

I am one of the mothers

Who wouldn’t think twice about burning off your fingertips?

And running with you on my back across borders and through tunnels

Shrugging off shrapnel and bullets

To escape sodomy

And entered this country

In the quest for democracy and found out that

My spine was Teflon in wars

But divorce could cripple me.

London’s skies are above me now

And esol could never teach me enough of about past and present tense

For the many times I tasted love

I would sacrifice them all

For a chance to whisper an English

Lullaby into your 6-year-old ear.


How do you say I’m proud of you in English?

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