Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear defies order and structure. It is a staggeringly diverse collection and as deep, heavy and haunting as the very days Israel rains down bombs and drones on Gaza.
Some of Mosab Abu Toha’s subjects in this recently published poetry collection are vast and ungraspable: the 2014 war, F-16 aircraft, immigration, family, exile and loss – especially loss.
Each poem uniquely details the alienating cruelty of living under Israeli occupation in the Gaza Strip, which has been under a strict Israeli siege since 2007.
Given Israel's escalating violence against Palestinians, including its latest three-day bloody onslaught on Gaza last month, resulting in 49 people, including 17 children and four women, being killed, only a year after the 11-day Israeli attack in May 2021, readers will be painfully touched by the numbing tone of the author that dominates the pages, as he narrates in his 9-lined short poem, entitled, Hard Exercise:
breathing is a task,
smiling is performing
on one’s own face,
and rising in the morning,
trying to survive
another day, is coming back
from the dead.
With shrapnel and bullets raining across most pages, the theme of blood and bombs runs deep through many of his writings.
Born in Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, home to 90,000 people, the author suffered the deaths of two brothers, a sister and his two dear friends, Amar and Ezza. They feature prominently in his poetry, along with Mahmoud Darwish, Ghassan Kanafani and Edward Said.
Mosab often transports the readers into darker and more dangerous terrain by ever so briefly describing the intimate moments of war that fail to reach the news and social media.
In just a flash of words, Mosab produces the poem’s images – nanoseconds of vivid stillness that come from an entirely disparate world. Despite the simple descriptions, Mosab strikes all five senses, enabling readers to visualise the start of a war in real time.
A buzzing sound of drones flying
above my family and friends
stops the games, the chatting, and the laughter.
A missile fails,
only falling into farmland nearby.
Shrapnel cuts electric wires.
Dust tops off our tea,
like latte foam.
Time stops in these poems, and suddenly, readers can even taste war. It is one of the varied marvels to come out of Mosab’s troubling book.
His poems, therefore, stay long in the mind of readers, who remain haunted by the violence and injustice perpetrated against him and the millions of marginalised, colonised and stateless Palestinians.
He notes in an interview at the end of the book how, no matter where he travels or how vast the world appears around him, he always felt as though he remained trapped in his place of birth, Gaza. The war-torn, besieged and isolated strip shaped his understanding of his identity and humanity.
The sea has a profound presence in the poems. It is the rare moment of appreciation expressed by the author and a brief exhilaration from the chaos that engulfs the pages. We read of comforting waves reaching his fingertips, reassuring his safety and seagulls flying past, blessing him with seconds of shade and joy.
With Gaza's land borders tightly controlled by neighbouring Israel and Egypt, the seaside is a precious resource for people looking to escape their day-to-day stresses.
Life in Gaza is shambolic; war and bombs are ear-splittingly loud. Yet, Mosab’s collection contains a deafening quietness as the buzzing drones settle as standard background noise and, in some instances, like in Gone With His Gunpowder, an ominous silence can be detected between the strategic line breaks.
Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear highlights the critical moments of the changeless present in Gaza that is being ignored and shunned.
Writing from Gaza, a place that itself feels diminished, Mosab communicates not only the calamity of the Palestinian experience in Gaza, but also the very foreign, private and insufferable moments of every day that build up and follow each calamity that the strip collectively endures.