Book 16: Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth–Warsan Shire

I first learned about Warsan Shire through Beyoncé. Her visual album, Lemonade, had all this great dialogue in between songs, and it turns out it was attributed to Shire, so of course I had to know more. She was born in Kenya to Somali parents and immigrated to the United Kingdom. What’s wild to think about is how crazy accomplished she is and we’re the same age. Almost exactly. Down to the month (August babies!). I had to pause a moment and think about what I was doing with my life when I see folks my age out there grinding hard and being recognized for their work. But let’s not dwell on making comparisons…

This book is her first published work. And unlike some of the other poetry I’ve read on this Journey to 30, this felt more accessible. I think being a contemporary of the time period in which poetry is written does that. I still had some difficulties in understanding meaning, because although we’re from the same generation, she still comes from a very particular cultural background and life experience that informs her subject matter. It forces you to do a little background research on what was going on in East Africa during her childhood. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, it was a different kind of challenge when compared to Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, or Sonia Sanchez. Her style was what really resonated with me: it’s simultaneously sardonic and humorous and dry.


Sofia used pigeon blood on her wedding night.
Next day, over the phone, she told me
how her husband smiled when he saw the sheets,

that he gathered them under his nose,
closed his eyes and dragged his tongue over the stain.
She mimicked his baritone, how he whispered

her name–Sofia,
pure, chaste, untouched.
We giggled over the static.

After he had praised her, she smiled, rubbed his head,
imagined his mother back home, parading
those siren sheets through the town,

waving at balconies, torso swollen with pride,
her arms fleshy wings bound to her body,
ignorant of flight.

When We Last Saw Your Father

He was sitting in the hospital parking lot
in a borrowed car, counting the windows
of the building, guessing which one
was glowing with his mistake.