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When my son was 10, we read a book about Anne Frank. He cried at the end and said, "We learned about the Holocaust in school, but reading about Anne felt different." For me, the power of Mosab's poem is in the naming—in presenting characters with bodies ("soft index finger"), hungers, memories, and brotherly conflict.

When we dialogue with words like 'us' and 'them,' we lose sight of our humanity and faces fade. Zooming in reminds us that we are all people craving safety, connection, and love. I learn a lot about Israel and Palestine in the news, but reading about these brothers felt different.

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Well stated. Thank you.

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What stays with me from this poem is the mint. An herb so pungent, potent, and well-known that the mere mention of it evokes, on tongue and palate, its cool and thrilling spiciness. Remembrance, for sure. But perhaps something more than memory as well. It is impossible in this moment of ongoing carnage and destruction not to feel the awful poignancy of the loss that this poem chronicles. The vividness of the destruction is a mere click away and it takes only a few minutes of reading almost anyone's account of survival to learn (or be reminded) of decades of continuous loss and ruin. Poetry remembers this. Your observation, Pádraig, of the hospitality that this poem mentions makes me feel that poems are part of the act of hospitality and that perhaps poems, too, need hospitality - they need the welcome and goodwill of which, in our better moments with each other, we are capable. This poem remembers hospitality which implies, especially given your comment "Memory isn’t about the past here; it’s about the present..." that it will again be possible. It must be. It is what makes us human. Even while the evidence of our failings is so brutally evident. But back to the mint. I've cultivated gardens many times in my life, beginning, as a child, with my grandfather and the small patch of raspberries (so delicious) and green beans (for which my appreciation did not develop until long after my grandfather had died). I love growing herbs and grown mint many times. And have learned that it is both easily grown and tenacious. It grows in sidewalk cracks, around fenceposts, in sandy or muddy soil. I'm sure other herbs are equally tenacious but it is mint that I have noticed most. It grows all over the neighbourhood in which i live in both alleys and gardens. So when i read "The mint no longer grows," I am reminded of the utter destruction in Gaza that I have seen in image after image for so many months. But reminded also of the tenacity of mint. For even now, it survives in the last line of this poem.

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A wonderful, poetic analysis of the poem. I learned something about mint today — making the last line of the poem quite powerful. Thanks, Chris.

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May 16Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

thank you, Chris, for your comments, esp on the tenacity of mint.

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May 15Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

I see this poem as an invocation. Mosab Abu Toha invokes the presence of Ibrahim Abu Lughod in himself and in us, his readers. He describes small details as Ibrahim becomes real to us- not a national hero or a formidable academic, but a boy. The boy in the poem then invokes his home as it was, complete and secure, his father dozing on the coach. The map he draws, like his vision, is vulnerable to time: It will be washed away by the waves in less than a day.

Out of sight, we readers cannot be unaware of violence that has caused the loss he wants to heal, yet the poem itself invokes an uninterrupted vision of security, harmony and peace. I understand from the poem that we can, and must, invoke the hope in his vision, beyond the anger and the blame (however justified it may be). While the entire poem is concerned with loss and absence, it's surprisingly hopeful and empowering. I understand from it that all our maps will be washed away in time, but it's up to each of us what we choose in the present to invoke and to make real.

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I have read Mosab´s collection several times already. Never have I been moved more by poetry. Mosab´s poems are phenomenal but my only wish is that he had never had to write this book. I believe that poetry teaches us so much, above all it reminds us of what we have in common rather than that which divides us.

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May 16Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

I was fortunate to come across this poetry volume at the library last week. Reading through it I was struck by the photos Mosab Abu Toha's inserts in the middle of it. Ergo, one of a missing kitchen, one of a gas tank with a reference to tea, and the fresh strawberries hit me while reading this poem.

What I cannot shake is the final line: The mint no longer grows.

For me, the poem felt wide open with a spaciousness that is not necessarily welcoming, but disorienting, even the kitchen, the heart of a home, cannot be located. The mint, native to the Middle East and a symbol of hospitality, was so vibrant in my mind's eye and yet it was dead because it was destroyed. Such a humbling poem for those of us who have not experienced loss of home/homeland.

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I need to get my hands on the book, wow. What a beautiful (and surely haunting) way to add to this poem.

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May 15Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

It has been an emotional day considering Toha’s heart-wrenching poem while being with my own family.

I will add one more wish for peace, the importance of which the poem expresses to me.

I am thankful for you, Padraig, and this community of artists.

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May 16Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

Thank you for lifting up this beautiful poets work! I've been following Mosab Abu Toha's poetry and life since October. Truly "poems can be teachers"! The world is smaller than we know sometimes. Tonight I was at an event with my friend Miriam and she mentioned this poem. Ibrahim Abu Lughod was her late father and she just read Mosab's poem about him today. What a gift to her and what a coincidence. She e-mailed Mosab and he answered straightaway.

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author

How moving to hear this. Thank you.

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May 16Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

what an incredible synchronicity, Brenda!

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As I am listening to today's episode, I am also reading it on the website [where I have already taken in the image of the poet; a person in this world]. I hear Padraig use the word 'lament' and think that I need to think of grief with a wider vocabulary. I think of the brothers touching the ground, and am thinking of Joy Harjo's 'ground rules,' of recent recommendations that we walk barefoot on the ground to relieve stress. I am relating to the brothers sharing memory, their differing memories. [When my children were babies, toddlers, I used to joke as they slept on me, Mama as a bed; when they rubbed their noses on my shoulder, Mama as a tissue; when they had me hold their things, Mama as a purse.] And I am thinking Oh, memory as a map, memory as a kite, memory as a call to remember together, to keep the sleeping father asleep on the shared memory of the couch. Memory as sharing tea. Memory as the smell of mint. As a lament.

The poem has them looking up "to what used to be their kitchen / window." And I see air, concrete and rebar rubble below. I see the flare of the lighter and know that something is being lit, that burns like a constant flame.

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“I see the flare of the lighter and know that something is being lit, that burns like a constant flame.” Thank you for this, Kathleen.

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I loved reading this poem and I cried as I read it. My memory turned to my dear Palestinian friend, Maurice (he passed during COVID). The brothers in the poem debated about where the kitchen was — the kitchen represented so much: nurturing, warmth, centering, food.

Maurice who never stopped lamenting and sharing what had happened to his Palestinian home and culture brought “the kitchen” to his deli in Sausalito (also by the water) where he nurtured and fed us. He also brought his kitchen to his legendary parties preparing incredible food.

I pray this poem as I read it (thank you for that reflection, Padraig) and “learned”, once again, about the power of poetry to heal, speak to the soul, and speak a language that crosses boundaries and unites us. I was united as I read about the brothers thinking of Maurice, remembering him with his brothers. The deli is closed and gone now after Maurice died. I too lament the loss of kitchens.

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Love your understanding of what the kitchen represents.

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“Poetry is always in deep relationship with what it doesn’t say...”. (Padraig O’Tuama)

The conflict here may be our own wrestling to fill in the blank.

I love that two brothers are arguing...that is “normalcy” among the description of other things that feel “normal”...the beach, drawing in the sand, kites, even a call for prayer.

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So true. This helps the listener/reader relate to the poem.

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May 15Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

I never thought I would post a poem of my own, let alone a completely unworked (and terribly cliche) poem, but sitting beneath a giant maple, watching the clouds and listening to today’s poem and discussion, with the still tangible house and the gentle argument between brothers, drew this out of me. In the context of America and our ridiculous political divides, the house that used to be is the country, the state, the town or city, the family, the couple, even the individual. Division occurs, even in the closest relationships, and we seem to have lost the ability to argue with any amount of flexibility. That hurts. That is where I meet this poem, personally, but given the cruelty and slaughter in Gaza, and the years of pain for both sides…what must it be like to consider the houses, land, people, and simpler times in that context, carrying all that memory? It’s unfathomable for someone like myself.

It comes with the same silent swim

Of clouds meeting—

One the storm, one small in solitary drift.

When I see you walk towards me

I feel the storm, and I’m not sure

If it is you or me today,

One of us holding onto the divide

Or feeling bitter, while the other

Consents to fold into that tumult, all

Mist and mayhem and misinformation,

Find a way to tug the other into calmer air.

Come to my arms, brother.

Let the storm fall from both of us,

And our two solitary clouds

Meet, and part to set free the sun.

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May 15·edited May 15Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

Gorgeous Mandy and thank you for asking the question

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Thank you, Amy. The miniseries certainly gave us a lot to think and write about, didn’t it? I’m still listening to the podcasts, jotting down notes, and learning. 😌

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Yes it did!.

That's what I love about Padraig. He never brings same old, brings and enables fresh perspectives that challenge mind and heart

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May 15·edited May 17Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

Awoke on this day, this day of the Nakba, as it is known to many, and read this poem and read and listened to your beautiful reflections, Pádraig, and wept, and wept, and wept.

Then I took a deep breath in, and out, telling myself, “enough for now, Mona. You have to get up for the day.” In that moment, I received a text from a friend, who is a poet, and Palestinian-American: “sending salaam.”

In the midst of so much heaviness, I ask myself the question you asked - what does this poem teach me? So many things. But maybe I’ll just speak of one: it teaches me to carry on. Through example, it teaches me (how) to carry on. It shows me how people continue to live, how people carry on. It teaches me how even in the midst of unfathomable violence and loss, even as one is surrounded by death, and living with gross injustices, how life - and living - can continue.

“Ibrahim looks upward to what used to be their kitchen window.

The mint no longer grows.”

Even when the mint no longer grows, even when the earth has become a graveyard for children, when the trees have been uprooted, even when the soil has been poisoned, even when the house is no longer there, the father no longer there, the children, no longer there - there is still this gesture “Ibrahim looks upward”…

And looking upwards towards a “window”.

This looking up, to what is beyond the beyond… to the skies, the cosmos, however one might think of this. The place of possibility. (Yes also the place from which bombs are dropped and drones circle above), but also that vast space of something beyond this ground, beyond this earth, beyond this that’s become a graveyard for graveyards.

I had an experience once that led me to think - what if we were to bow, to “pray”, to use your gorgeous suggestion, Pádraig, about this entire poem being a prayer, to “surrender” through the gesture not of bowing down and kneeling or prostrating, but of this sweeping movement of looking up? Inhaling. Inspiring. And towards the window, a portal… to keep looking for those windows … even though this window is also no longer there… there is still the movement to look up towards the window... to inspire. To see through….

As feelings of despair at times set in, thinking of how much pain we inflict on one another, how violent systems become normalized, how people enslave others, toruture others, the violence of colonialism, of empire… this poem teaches me to continue to inspire. even as so much, so many, expire. (I have relatives in India who have described to me a person who has died as “she expired” or “he expired”).

And I think of the poet, Mosab Abu Toha, and how he has spent time and precious life force energy to imagine and develop and devote and create and write and share these poems while living under a brutal siege in Gaza .. to have such - life - this is itself a very powerful teaching for me. And more reminder to inspire. To look up … to look for a window….

One other note: I am reminded of something you’ve said before Pádraig, - poems may have their own knowing. As I read “kids run by, flying kites” I cannot help but think of Refaat Alareer, one of Mosab’s dear friends and a teacher and mentor to so many who was killed by an Israeli air strike along with several of his family members in December 2023, who wrote a poem before his death that has since been translated into many languages, including Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu blend!) by my dad and mom… whose kite, lives on. Many may know this poem, but sharing here too, as Mosab’s poem despite all the loss and pain and grief teaches me how to be a kite, or at least to aspire to be one. It feeds my faith. To carry on.

If I must die

If I must die,
you must live
to tell my story
to sell my things
to buy a piece of cloth
and some strings,
(make it white with a long tail)
so that a child, somewhere in Gaza
while looking heaven in the eye
awaiting his dad who left in a blaze —
and bid no one farewell
not even to his flesh
not even to himself —
sees the kite, my kite you made, flying up above,
and thinks for a moment an angel is there
bringing back love.
If I must die
let it bring hope,
let it be a tale.

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May 15Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

Thank you for this mesmerizing immersion Padraig. I’m struck by conflation of all knowing and not knowing; time-past that becomes more present and beloved than time-present; the call to worship that disappears into air—in particular the memory of how it once felt to achieve the now longed for ability to provide comfort to many from one’s own kitchen, which can no longer contain itself within a defined geography. Two brothers see differently; but they are united by love of their past rapport and mutual care for their father’s wellbeing. The music is so beautifully interspersed, filled with souls speaking into each ear—one after another— in rings of sound, water, light and thought that spread outward and outward between us.

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May 15Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

Thank you for sharing this poem and expanding its meaning. I have shared this with many friends and family with hope that we will see each others humanity.

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I am thinking of the importance of home. Not house and possessions as things to own but a ground that holds. I love that what he wants to do is make tea for everyone on the beach. How home allows for sharing, an expansiveness of heart, what it means to lose a home to these two (I’m assuming young) men that held their childhood. To lose all that home represents. I am thinking of my sister and how siblings are our greatest life witnesses. Even when we don’t agree on the details we recognize the loss.

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May 15·edited May 15

This is a gorgeous poem. It is sparse and yet so rich in narrative and landscape I feel it deep in my bones.

Beware Padraig...

What I say next you likely may not agree with but you have made honesty and conflict and poems all One here and I'm all for that.

I could say much but will only say this about Edward Said who, like Noam Chomsky are in my opinion, examples of a kind of charismatic intellectual and political elite who masquerade their simplistic theologies as champions of the people and the Oppressed. They use the language of theology to reduce history to Oppressors and Oppressed and succeed because there is plenty of grist for that mill. But their success lies in reducing history to a language of absolutes which lacks humanity and ultimately leads to division.

Wasn't it Faulkner who said "the past is never dead. In fact the past is never past." Said and Chomsky do not see they resurrect their myopic version of the past without helping us find a way out as authentic leaders of peace in fact do. Yes let's elevate the voices of poets and public servants whose feet touch the ground and touch others instead.

Sand Sand Sand. This poem is about Sand. Our 2 peoples are people of the Sand metaphorically and physically. Wandering in it, finding refuge in it, warring in it, building in it, drawing lines in it, being displaced, massacred and neglected in it for centuries. It is so heartbreaking we haven't found refuge in each other and instead continue to be traumatized in it. There is nothing in this poem that Jews cannot deeply relate to. It is a deep personal and universal story of our 2 peoples for centuries, persecuted or colonized, neither people having the ability to exercise self determination until recently.. There is so much more that could be said about this land of desert and sand but I will say that this poem teaches that until we find a common internal language on this common ground there will be no mint, no mint at all, only Sand, only desert, only displacement and ghosts and death.

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How interesting since the collection contains a poem titled, "Edward Said, Noam Chomsky and Theodore Adorno in Gaza". I can only offer that it does touch upon language/words (intellectualization?) in juxtaposition to the destruction of Palestine. [I hope you can find a copy to read since I didn't want to break copyright laws].

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Still looking Angela. It doesn't appear to be published separately on line.

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