No one puts their children in a boat/unless the water is safer than the land


Despite it being a holiday, my local neighborhood pool was open today.  Because of the holiday, it was very nearly empty.  I was one of just three people in the vast expanse of crystal clear-blue water.  I lay on my back and looked up at the sky, for once empty of the airplanes that usually roar overhead, and I thought about the fact that it’s summer here.  And it must be summer in Syria.  And somewhere in Syria, there must be a swimming pool.  And sometime, somewhere in Syria, some other summer, some other woman must have laid on her back in the water and looked up at the same sky I was looking at.  The same oxygen and hydrogen and nitrogen and whatever else is in air – they made up the air she breathed. 

                Our planet is very nearly a closed system.   Sure, we send people and things up to space, and occasionally asteroids come down, but from my (very, very rudimentary) understanding of ecology and history, I know that the water in my faucet could have been drunk by an ancient homo erectus, somewhere on the African savanna.  I know that the sand I walk on could have been rocks a few eons ago.  That mammoths once roamed places we now name Manitoba, Saskatchewan, China, and Russia.  That the time of the dinosaurs is really just a blink away.

                Three-hundred-something years ago, people formed a country I now call mine, and even before it was formed, the leaders were deciding who had the right to live here, and who didn’t.  The Indigenous people whose language lingers in so many place names, even as most people today don’t know a single Native American Indian, they were the first to be deemed unacceptable.  They were rounded up, herded like cows to the slaughterhouse, killed by diseases that Europeans deliberately infected them with and which they had no immunity to.

                From the beginning, ours has been a nation made up of minorities – Spanish explorers, Chinese railroad workers, Jews fleeing pogroms, Irish fleeing famine, slaves and other people of color brought here against their will.  I think that maybe the founders realized this, and that is why they institutionalized racism just about as fast as they could, so that they could remain on the very top.  You name a group, white cis able bodied Christian men in this country have oppressed said group.  Women, people of color, disabled people, indigenous people, non-Christians, queer people, trans people  – none are truly free or equal to people like my brother and many of my friends are today. 

                This is not to say that my brother or my friends are not good, honest, hardworking people who deserve good things to happen to them.  It is just to say that due to their demographic, they have probably had it easier than anyone who doesn’t fall into a minority category.  It is just to say that it is this demographic currently running the country.  And it is this demographic that is repeating history, when you’d think we’d have learned from, oh, a few world wars and numerous genocides that happened right in front of our eyes in the last hundred years alone.

                Warsan Shire, a Somali-British poet, writes:

“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
breath bloody in their throats
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.”

                There are people now fleeing their homes all over the world.  They are not fleeing homes made of camels and tents and desert sand.  They are fleeing modern cities with supermarkets and pharmacies and swimming pools.  They are fleeing the schools where they learned to read and the playground where their baby sat in a swing and laughed.  They are fleeing yards with trees where they once had picnics, surrounded by friends and family.  They most likely have no idea where the majority of those friends and family are now, unless their bones lie in a grave or at the bottom of the sea.

                But the park is a pile of rubble and the school has been closed for lack of teachers and the hospital closed for lack of supplies and there are great craters where the houses of their neighbors once were.  The peach and fig trees which once scented the air are cracked by the fires.  There are bullet holes in the storefronts.  They cannot just pack up and go to their sister’s in New Jersey because New Jersey is also in the midst of a war and the road is impassable, anyway.  A car drive that once took five hours is now as far away as the moon. 

                And since they can’t get to New Jersey – because New Jersey has no doctors, either, no teachers, no food – they decide that they will go then to the moon.  And they get on a boat or a train or a truck and they set off for the moon, and they never dreamed that the moon would refuse them.  After all, the moon has so much space, so much wealth. 

                The people in power right now – they think that the Syrian refugees and Iraqi and Afghani and South Americans who are all clamoring at our door, they think that they want the moon.  But they don’t.  They don’t want the moon.  They just want to live without the perpetual threat of their children being killed by bombs on the way to school.  They want to make plans with their brother about what to do about dinner, not what to do if he is kidnapped.  They want to fill their lungs with air and breathe out and sit under a tree somewhere and eat a peach.

                Do Syrian refugees not deserve peaches?  Do billionaires deserve tax breaks more than a child deserves an education?  If Jesus is truly who they worship, you would not value oil over a human life.  If Jesus was here now, he would welcome all refugees and he would know that Islam is a peaceful religion, and they are all our brethren, not our enemies.

                How can we call ourselves the land of the free when so many are not?  How can we call our people brave when they are not brave enough to reach out a hand to a stranger in need, to say hello, to say welcome?  It is all the same planet.  Country boundaries are arbitrary.  We are all citizens of the world, and it is about damn time that the federal government started acting like it.

The rest of Warsan Shire’s poem, ‘Home’ can be found below. I urge you to read and share it.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled 
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between 
your legs
or the insults are easier 
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
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 told you 
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.


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