“We Love What We Have” broadside by Mosab Abu Toha
We Love What We Have
We love what we have, no matter how little,
because if we don't, everything will be gone. If we don't,
we will no longer exist, since there will be nothing here for us.
What's here is something that we are still
building. It's something we cannot yet see,
because we are part
Someday soon, this building will stand on its own, while we,
we will be the trees that protect it from the fierce
wind, the trees that will give shade
to children sleeping inside or playing on swings.
Mosab Abu Toha
I encountered this poem last winter when I met Elaine of City Lights Books at an event and asked after new poetry and she put Mosab's book in my hand. After we'd looked at my work and broached the idea of broadside with them (a dream!). I said thanks and she said "if you don't find something you want to print in there, no need to pretend" to which I replied without thinking "oh don't worry I won't." I walked away feeling wide-eyed and a little brash but honest, as always. City Lights is such a legend.
Of course I did find something I wanted to print. More than one thing! Mosab's book is stark, harsh, clear and hard to read. Hard because of what it makes you see. The language is simple and unrelenting, a steady light shined on tragic daily conditions. The sort you "know" about but don't actually know, and don't want to feel, when you live far from them in relative comfort. It makes me think of William Stafford's lines "I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty / to know what occurs but not recognize the fact."
Mosab's poetry goes beyond recognition. It catapults us into actual feelings which is why it's uncomfortable and important to read. And it does this while holding fierce love for his land and people and sharing their beauty, which shocks me awake in a different and maybe even more important way. His poem "We Love What We Have" gave me a good gasp and a deep breath when I first read it. It resonated with me. The idea that one can center love amidst cruelty — not just can, but must. We must learn to love the way he is showing us. By being a tree. By witnessing unflinching. By caring for future children on swings.
Find the book here, the print here, and the Poetry Lunch episode here where I talked about this poem. Also, we're donating copies of this broadside plus a collection of others we've made to the Edward Said Public Library, the first English-language library in Gaza that Mosab founded. Here's an essay he wrote about the project and here's a donation link to support it.
Thanks to Elaine Katzenberger for being so real and present and good to talk to, for introducing me to Mosab's work, and for permission to print from City Lights.
Thanks to Mosab for his generous responsiveness, gracious connection, and for bringing his presence to bear in such well-shaped language.