21 Days/21 Poems: ‘Ugly’ by Warsan Shire

warsan shire

The theme is woman for today’s Another 21 Days/21 Poems.

Warsan Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali poet.  She is the inaugural winner of the Brunel University African Poetry Prize. In 2011, she published her poetry pamphlet, “Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth“, which I really, really need to get. Her work is a revelation.



Your daughter is ugly.
She knows loss intimately,
carries whole cities in her belly.

As a child, relatives wouldn’t hold her.
She was splintered wood and sea water.
They said she reminded them of the war.

On her fifteenth birthday you taught her
how to tie her hair like rope
and smoke it over burning frankincense.

You made her gargle rosewater
and while she coughed, said
macaanto girls like you shouldn’t smell
of lonely or empty.

You are her mother.
Why did you not warn her,
hold her like a rotting boat
and tell her that men will not love her
if she is covered in continents,
if her teeth are small colonies,
if her stomach is an island
if her thighs are borders?

What man wants to lay down
and watch the world burn
in his bedroom?

Your daughter’s face is a small riot,
her hands are a civil war,
a refugee camp behind each ear,
a body littered with ugly things

but God,
doesn’t she wear
the world well.

– by Warsan Shire

Source: The Poetry International Web



  1. Beautiful poem, Kinna. I enjoyed your piece on Achebe, too. I do worry that people are so busy retweeting links that they don’t have the time or inclination to read real books!


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