you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
– Warsan Shire
“Calm Sea & Prosperous Voyage”
Originally published on Instagram
March 3, 2023
When I heard the news about migrant children drowning off the coast of Calabria earlier this week, I walked to the sea to think about the tides of fate.
A member of my family was born a stateless refugee in a country far away. This person’s first name in their ancestral African language means “Stranger in a Strange Land.” Perhaps I’ll write more on the topic someday, but for the moment it feels a little too close to home.
Home. That word is the title of a poem by Somali-British writer, Warsan Shire. Ninety-five terse lines about the harrowing journey of the refugee. Standing at the shoreline, I heard Shire’s voice (which you can hear for yourself at the link above) converge with the music of the sea:
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land…
Later that night I made three variations on the artwork you see here. The first depicted Afghan, Iranian, Pakistani and Somali children in the capsized boat; the second featured a lone figure who resembled my family member. These were distressing to look at; they felt like desecrations, and so I destroyed them. Thinking about how the words ‘destiny’ and ‘doom’ are related by a hairsbreadth, I next placed my five-year-old self in the water. I’m no Christian, so I’ll leave God out of it, but there for some kind of grace go all of us.
I encourage you to squint and imagine your own childhood face floating in that unforgiving ocean. Please read and/or listen to Shire’s poem. Then, the next time a storm is rattling the windows of your home, when the wind is banging at the door demanding to come inside, please remember every word. I know I will.
See you again soon, grace willing…
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