Warsan Shire – Backwards

Source

Backwards

by Warsan Shire

The poem can start with him walking backwards into a room.
He takes off his jacket and sits down for the rest of his life;
that’s how we bring Dad back.
I can make the blood run back up my nose, ants rushing into a hole.
We grow into smaller bodies, my breasts disappear,
your cheeks soften, teeth sink back into gums.
I can make us loved, just say the word.
Give them stumps for hands if even once they touched us without consent,
I can write the poem and make it disappear.
Step-Dad spits liquor back into glass,
Mum’s body rolls back up the stairs, the bone pops back into place,
maybe she keeps the baby.
Maybe we’re okay kid?
I’ll rewrite this whole life and this time there’ll be so much love,
you won’t be able to see beyond it.
You won’t be able to see beyond it,
I’ll rewrite this whole life and this time there’ll be so much love.
Maybe we’re okay kid,
maybe she keeps the baby.
Mum’s body rolls back up the stairs, the bone pops back into place,
Step-Dad spits liquor back into glass.
I can write the poem and make it disappear,
give them stumps for hands if even once they touched us without consent,
I can make us loved, just say the word.
Your cheeks soften, teeth sink back into gums
we grow into smaller bodies, my breasts disappear.
I can make the blood run back up my nose, ants rushing into a hole,
that’s how we bring Dad back.
He takes off his jacket and sits down for the rest of his life.
The poem can start with him walking backwards into a room.

Warsan Shire’s poem titled “Backwards” paints a heartbreakingly beautiful story of, what I interpret as, the disappearance of a father from one’s life. Despite my inability to determine whether or not this disappearance is intentional, I find that the language used creates striking imagery of helplessness and pain; the body, surrounded by surprise and desperation, grows into “smaller bodies” and the “breasts disappear.” It creates of the image of someone trying to disappear into the ground beneath them out of shame, pain or humiliation. In the case of the poem, the reason is one that ties to the disappearance of her father, who, she desperately wants to walk “backwards into a room,” the room being the household.

What strikes me most is the role of nature in creating the personification of a tree and other natural things. The “stumps for hands, and use of “sink” reminds me of sinking into the ground, the earth, the dirt. If we look at the theme of nature and “natural occurrences” as a prevalent voice within the poem’s narrative, one can infer that the father might’ve experienced something “natural,” like death, once he left home and can no longer return. Hence, the speakers desire to “rewrite this whole life.” After the biological father’s disappearance, or death, enters the “Step-Dad” who, if the speaker could rewrite history, “spits liquor back into glass.” This suggests that the Step-Dad suffered from substance abuse—the line before demonstrates the impact of this substance abuse on the family, seeing as how the line before states that “mum’s body rolls back up the stairs, the bone pops back into place.” In a different life, the speaker’s biological father would remain and thus the family would avoid any future abuse or pain.

While this poem’s connection may not be as obvious to our class, I believe it connects in ways that we are now starting to discuss. Warsan Shire, a woman of color and a poet, is writing about a painful familial experience. While the origins of this experience are unknown and left up to interpretation, I can’t help but make the connection to how in class—through the literature we’ve read and discussions we’ve had—we see the way in which societal conventions shape familial dynamic and experience. What are your thoughts on this notion? Is your interpretation of the poem similar or different to mine?

2 thoughts on “Warsan Shire – Backwards”

  1. Loved this post! I think your analysis of the poem was great. I was particularly drawn to your analysis of the nature symbols. As we have learned through class, nature has been a source of healing for many marginalized communities. We especially encountered this theme in Remedios and Chotti’s presentation. Although this poem details a lot of pain, the nature is used to articulate this type of pain, which allows it to act as a form of healing for the author. I’m curious as to who the author is addressing through the “you” in the poem, and was wondering if you or anyone else might have any thoughts on who it might be.

  2. It totally connects to class! AND to your previous post on Blossom. I JUST gifted Shire’s book of poetry to a dear friend but haven’t re-read it in a while. I don’t have much to add to your interpretation and Matthew’s, save to highlight these lines: “I’ll rewrite this whole life and this time there’ll be so much love, / you won’t be able to see beyond it.” We aren’t just listeners (or victims of oppression, as our readings have pointed out), we’re also the storytellers. We have the capacity to “rewrite” the dominant narrative of both our own lives and of history at large.

Leave a Reply to Tala Khanmalek Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *