Mother May I

85.pngPainting by Ronny Ongwang

Mother may I

take a step

to set my path upon the world?

Mother may I

wander on my own

like my brothers do?

Mother may I

skip, laugh and smile

as long as my laughter is not too loud nor my smile too wide

Mother may I

pursue my dreams

as long as I have not placed them too high?

Mother may I

take another step forward



Mother may I

have the world within my reach as long as that reach

is not outside the boundaries of my home?

Mother may I

grow beautiful

to only tempt the eyes of a husband

and hope that the world is blind to me

Mother may I

pick up the pieces of glass from the floor

when I try to step forward

Mother may I

have a man to keep me safe always?

and always

have something to keep me safe from a man?

Mother may I

hide my sins from a world

that only sees my sins?

Mother may I

have babies to love

and children to hold?

Mother may I

not suffer…

or it that one too many steps

Am I too quick to reach my


Mother may I

love myself

without being selfish

Mother may I

love others

without losing myself

Mother may I

never have daughters who look up to me

and ask

Mother may I?

I wrote this poem “Mother, May I?” because it was a game I used to play as a child. There is a game called “Mother, May I?” where someone plays the mother whose back is turned
to the other players. The “Mother” tells a player to take a few steps, and the player must ask, “Mother, May I?” before taking any steps; if they do not then they must stay in place. It is a bit like the game “Simon Says”.

don't wish for for it. (1)

I thought about how this game reflected upon my life as a young woman, and how frustrated I would feel when it seemed like there were so many rules to being a woman, particularly a South Asian Muslim woman. I felt that my male cousins and other Muslim young men I saw could be free and do what they
wanted, but I could not. It seemed like the older I became, the more restrictions were put on me. The restrictions are beyond being Muslim though, as is this poem. It is about being a woman.

As an adult, I feel that I have fought and questioned these restrictions for most of my life. Now I do not ask for permission because I know that these are just constructs that make no real sense to a just and equal society. I hope for a day when our daughters will not have to ask if they are allowed take part in implicit freedoms we should all have, whether we are male or female.

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