My mother asks why I cry

Barâa Arar

My mother asks why I cry

                                      I tell her the world is so sad so unfair so far too much

                                      And my words are not enough

                                      I cannot hold the tears back

                                      So I fill buckets and lakes and moats

              There are children in cages

                                      And I am crying because there is nothing left to say

              Their parents in jails

                                      And I am crying because there is nothing left to say

              For being alive

              For trying to survive

                                                                  I wish I was writing in metaphors.

My mother wipes away my tears, drains the moats, instructs:

                                                                  “pray to God, the One.”

                                      As I weep

                                      As I scream

               3000 kilometers south

               A young Guatemalan child in immigration detention cries

His mother lulls him, instructs:                                                

              “don’t cry, my love be happy; you are going to get out of there.”

He is a child in a cage

                                         And I am the one crying

                                         Because there is nothing left to say

               His mother in jail

               For being alive

               For trying to survive

                                          My, God, I wish these were just metaphors.

She wipes away his tears, drains the moats, instructs:                                

                    “remember that God exists, kneel and cry to God”

                                         So I stop crying

                                         And pick up a pen


                                                               Because words are all that I’ve got.

Author Statement:

I started to write this poem the morning after a long conversation with my mom. She found me crying in my room one evening and when she asked me why, I told her, between gasps of air, "Nazism." Perhaps in retrospect, this seems like a comically simple response, but at the time I was viscerally experiencing a particularly difficult news week. I heard reports of ICE's inhumane detention of children, the Ford government took power in Ontario, the not-a-Muslim-ban Muslim ban was upheld by the Supreme Court, and Orlando Brown was killed by police officers in Barrie, Ontario. Like other news junkies, I glued myself to Twitter, scanning articles to learn more details, only to become more upset. As a young, visibly Muslim woman, I am not afforded the privilege of being unaware of politics. My life as a Muslim-presenting woman is inherently politicized. Whenever I see someone who looks like me, someone who prays like me, in the news cycle, it is more often than not related to a devastating incident. The day after my crying session, I found a transcript VICE published of a conversation between a Guatemalan child and his mother in detention. It shocked me how loving the mother's words were, despite their horrific circumstances. Their interaction is heartbreaking and yet beautifully captures resilience. I knew I needed to find a way to show these small maternal moments—him and his mom, myself and my mom—in a poem.

Learn more about Turtle Island Responds

Barâa Arar loves stories. She believes everyone has a narrative and we should all lend our ears to hear it. Barâa stumbled into spoken word poetry in 2010. Since then, she has performed individually and on a team, both locally and nationally. Barâa studies humanities at Carleton University, with a focus on art, politics, and resistance. She is a community organizer, writer, and the co-host of The Watering Hole podcast. You can find her at:

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