Warsan Shire poems can only be appreciated by the woman who knows her worth, but struggles to demand it, the woman who wants love but loves herself more, and by the woman who refuses to be tamed to fit a particular stereotype. The London native has published three collections, and has worked with Beyonce on Lemonade. According to Alexis Okeowo in the New Yorker, Shire’s work “embodies the kind of shape-shifting, culture-juggling spirit lurking in most people who can’t trace their ancestors to their country’s founding fathers, or whose ancestors look nothing like those fathers. In that limbo, Shire conjures up a new language for belonging and displacement.” Here’s “15 Warsan Shire Poems for the Feminist Heart.”
“It’s not my responsibility to be beautiful, I’m not alive for that purpose. My existence is not about how desirable you find me.”
“Give your daughters difficult names. Give your daughters names that command the full use of the tongue. My name makes you want to tell me the truth. My name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.”
“I am a lover without a lover. I am lovely and lonely and I belong deeply to myself.”
“Things my mother didn’t tell me, but should have:
Never give any kind of pleasure to a boy you wouldn’t give
Kiss like a promise and wait for the other person to break it.
Human beings are not ships; you cannot save them from sinking
if they don’t want to be rescued from the floodwaters.
Loving someone that doesn’t give a damn about you
isn’t sexy; it’s misplaced energy, also known as
Don’t ever treat anyone like a refugee from a civil war;
they will come back from battle and leave you as wounded
as if you were the one who had been paid
for military service. Forgiveness isn’t putting the weapon down;
it’s learning how to kiss the person pulling the trigger,
not just a quick peek on the cheek, but a full one with tongue.
Let the dead be dead.
They have no answering machines, no phonelines:
if you call them, only the ground will ring.
Never trust a boy who already has a pack of condoms ready
in his coat pocket before he even asks your name.
When the world tries to break your back with it’s weight,
get a stronger spine.
Your father left us because he was ashamed
for not being the one that gave birth to you.
Even oceans misplace their anchors sometimes.
Never “give a man permission.”
You shouldn’t have to. It should be mutual.
Stop treating your body like currency,
don’t pay anyone who doesn’t deserve it.”
“Sometimes your light attracts moths and your warmth attracts parasites, protect your space and energy.”
“My alone feels so good. I’ll only have you if you’re sweeter than my solitude.”
“Document the moments you feel most in love with yourself- what you’re wearing, who you’re around, what you’re doing. Recreate and repeat.”
“For Women Who Are “Difficult” to Love’
You are a horse running alone
and he tries to tame you
compares you to an impossible highway
to a burning house
says you are blinding him
that he could never leave you
want anything but you
you dizzy him, you are unbearable
every woman before or after you
is doused in your name
you fill his mouth
his teeth ache with memory of taste
his body just a long shadow seeking yours
but you are always too intense
frightening in the way you want him
unashamed and sacrificial
he tells you that no man can live up to the one who
lives in your head
and you tried to change didn’t you?
closed your mouth more
tried to be softer
less volatile, less awake
but even when sleeping you could feel
him travelling away from you in his dreams
so what did you want to do love
split his head open?
you can’t make homes out of human beings
someone should have already told you that
and if he wants to leave
then let him leave
you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love.”
“Make peace with your body, it’s not man made, there are no flaws, there are no mistakes.”
“I fell apart many times. so, what does that say about me besides I live through wars.”
I tried to change.
Closed my mouth more.
Tried to be soft, prettier.
Fasted for 60 days.
Wore white. Abstained from mirrors. Abstained from sex.
Slowly did not speak another word.
In that time my hair grew past my ankles.
I slept on a mat on the floor.
I swallowed a sword.
I levitated… into the basement, I confessed my sins and was baptized in a river.
Got on my knees and said, “Amen.” And said I mean. I whipped my own back and asked for dominion at your feet.
I threw myself into a volcano.
I drank the blood and drank the wine.
I sat alone and begged and bent at the waist for God.
I crossed myself and thought… I saw the devil.
I grew thickened skin on my feet.
I bathed…in bleach and plugged my menses with pages from the Holy Book.
But still inside me coiled deep was the need to know.
Are you cheating? Are you cheating on me?”
“The Uses of Sorrow:
Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”
“I want to love, but my hair smells of war and running and running.”
“I’m not sad, but the boys who are looking for sad girls always find me. I’m not a girl anymore and I’m not sad anymore. You want me to be a tragic backdrop so that you can appear to be illuminated, so that people can say ‘Wow, isn’t he so terribly brave to love a girl who is so obviously sad?’ You think I’ll be the dark sky so you can be the star? I’ll swallow you whole.”
“If it’ll keep my heart soft, break my heart everyday.”