Poems that Stir the Heart and Shake Up the Soul

Poems that Stir the Heart and Shake Up the Soul

Ten of us in my Gourmet Poets Society met by Zoom last weekend; the gentle inauguration of my August sabbatical. Clearly, I’m not fully immersed in that sabbatical yet.

Here are three of the poems shared that evening, illustrating the depth and range of poetry shared with each other for 20 years now. David Whyte’s Self-Portrait, a perennial favorite soul shaker. Henry Seiden’s whimsical exploration of serious stereotypical gender differences. And Warshan Shire’s impassioned, heart-rending portrayal of the realities of millions of refugees (now numbering more than any previous time in human history).

Thought provoking, heart stirring, soul shaking, redemptive when honored and shared.


– – David Whyte, Fire in the Earth

It doesn’t interest me if there is one God

or many gods.

I want to know if you belong or feel


If you know despair or can see it in others.

I want to know

if you are prepared to live in the world

with its harsh need

to change you.  If you can look back

with firm eyes

saying this is where I stand.  I want to know

if you know

how to melt into that fierce heat of living

falling toward

the center of your longing.

I want to know

if you are willing

to live, day by day, with the consequence of love

and the bitter

unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even

The gods speak of God.


Men Say Brown

– Henry M. Seiden

On the radio this morning: The average woman knows

275 colors—and men know eight. Women say coffee,

mocha, copper, cinnamon, taupe. Men say brown.

Women know an Amazon of colors I might have said

were green, an Antarctica of whites, oceans of colors

I’d stupidly call blue, fields of color, with flowers in them

I would have said were red.

From women, I’ve learned to love the browns,

the earths, the dusts, the clays, the soft colors, the colors

brought out from the mines, hardened ones,

hardened in fires I would call red; the colors of the furies;

the reconciling colors of the cooling ash.

By myself I know the evening colors when the sky goes

from blue to another blue to black—although it’s a lonely,

whitish black sometimes,

like the color of sleep—

the way dreams are lit by the light that’s thrown

from nowhere on the things you find in them. Last night

there was a turtle, I would say it was brown or green,

or it was a snake, mottled, a kind of grey, disguised

as a turtle, red spots as if painted on the shell,

a palish greenish underside—vulnerable, alone

swimming in water I would say was colorless.

I woke to the pale colors of the morning—no one

has a name for those: the white-rose white you see

through the white of the curtains on the window,

the milks, the creams, the cream a galactic swirl

before it turns to brown when your wife stirs it in the coffee,

the faint drying oval on the silver of the spoon.


Warsan Shire was born in Kenya to Somali parents and lives in London. She is a poet, writer, editor and teacher. In 2013-2014, she was the Young Poet Laureate for London.


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 neighbors 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.

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 toilet
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 don’t know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

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