This eloquent volume of poetry, Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear by Mosab Abu Toha, offers heart-wrenching poems that spring from the rubble and violence of contemporary Gaza. Unlike the generalized view of the Middle East conflict (replete with slogans and sweeping simplifications all too often offered by people in the West who are far from the bloodshed) Mosab Abu Toha particularizes the violence from the point of view of a husband, father, poet and Palestinian citizen of Gaza in a way that allows the reader to assess the human cost of this interminable struggle.
When I left, I left my childhood in the drawer
and on the kitchen table. I left my toy horse
in its plastic bag.
The image of a toy horse left behind speaks more powerfully of the displacement and loss of the people of Gaza than volumes of opinion pieces and the chatter of talking heads.
Mosab Abu Toha leaves behind the headlines and breaking news to create for the reader a living, breathing Gaza. It is through specific images that we are able to picture an actual place and actual people that, rather than diminishing the horror of violence, makes it all the more agonizing to imagine.
leave their nest,
singing a song, perhaps
for the artist working
in what used to be a well-kept garden.
He’s painting a new house,
even a new garden.
without twisted metal beams,
without broken bricks and loose electrical wire.
Mosab Abu Toha is that artist and in Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear the poet paints a powerful and moving portrait of his beloved Gaza where people are not political abstractions but flesh and blood men, women, and children. Even the everyday objects of life—a clock, a rocking chair, a mirror, a deserted boat—all are imbued with a potent life-force that emphasizes their fragility in a world under siege.
Even our olive
tree bends when it sees the bomb fall. The tree’s curly hair
touches the dry sand. Its many green eyes
are pierced by shattered glass,
the windows of our living room, kitchen, and bedrooms,
and my father’s library, where a couple
of sparrows nest in a corner in the ceiling.
In another poem he asserts:
We love what we have, no matter how little,
because if we don’t, everything will be gone.
Mosab Abu Toha captures the transitory nature of a life where one is never certain of what will happen from minute to minute and how a people can survive under such conditions.
Don’t ever be surprised
to see a rose shoulder up
among the ruins of the house:
This is how we survived.
Reading the poems of Mosab Abu Toha is a breath-taking experience. Published by the prestigious City Lights Books, his poetry provides an important insider perspective on life in Gaza. From its surrealistic title to the interview with the poet that concludes the book there is much to discover and appreciate in this volume.
The title poem, Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear, describes a visit to a doctor:
When you open my ear, touch it
My mother’s voice lingers somewhere inside.
You may encounter songs in Arabic,
poems in English I recite to myself,
or a song I chant to the chirping birds in our backyard.
When you open this book you will find poems that sing of a wounded land whose people survive on love, family and hope.
When you stitch the cut, don’t forget to put all these things back in my
Put them back in order, as you would do with the books on your
For anyone interested in a deeper understanding of Gaza and the Palestinian people than is offered by the mainstream media that represent individuals as political abstractions or numbers in a scoreboard of tragedy then this book is highly recommended. For those who seek the beauty and solace of poetry, Mosab Abu Toha’s Things You May Find in My Ear will not disappoint.
Mérida, Yucatán, México
Things You May Find Hidden In My Ear
Mosab Abu Toha
City Lights Books, San Francisco, 2022
Jonathan Harrington has published twenty books including poetry, novels, essays and translations. A graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop he has lived in Mexico for over twenty years. His latest book of poems is The Frozen Sea Within Us: New & Selected Poems (www.beltwayeditions.com). The book covers forty years of a life in poetry.