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Hayan Charara Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1972, Hayan Charara studied biology and English at Wayne State University in Detroit, cultural theory at New York University, and literature at the University of Houston. His poems are “intensely personal,” “hard-bitten and meditative,” and possess “a healthy dose of humility and openness to both the wonder and the terror of this world.” He strives often to unsettle his readers, compelling them to actively participate in his poems. Widely published in journals and anthologies, including American Poetry:The Next Generation and Present/Tense: Poets in the World, he is the author of two books, The Alchemist’s Diary and The Sadness of Others, which was nominated for the National Book Award in 2006. For many years, he lived and taught in New York City, and he now makes his home in Texas. He is also a woodworker. Thinking American —for Dioniso D. Martínez Take Detroit, where boys are manufactured into men, where you learn to think in American. You speak to no one unless someone speaks to you. Everyone is suspect: baldheaded carriers from the post office; old Polish ladies who swear to Jesus, Joseph, and Mary; your brother, especially your brother, waiting in a long line for work. There’s always a flip side. No matter what happens, tomorrow is a day away, or a gin bottle if you can’t sleep, 73 1CHARARA_pages_i-164.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:36 PM Page 73 and if you stopped drinking, a pack of cigarettes. After that, you’re on your own, you pack up and leave. You still call the city beside the strait home. Make no mistake, it’s miserable. After all, you bought a one-way Greyhound ticket, cursed each and every pothole on the road out. But that’s where you stood before a mirror in the dark, where you were too tired to complain. You never go back. Things could be worse. Maybe. Detroit is a shithole, it’s where you were pulled from the womb into the streets. Listen, when I say Detroit, I mean any place. By thinking American, I mean made. Washing My Father His cupped hands hid the space between his legs. Droplets, which hung momentarily at the lip of the faucet, plopped into the tub— the only noise in the bathroom. Except for his breathing— the deep inhales of steam rising from the surface. Except, too, the water 74 Hayan Charara 1CHARARA_pages_i-164.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:36 PM Page 74 from a soapy sponge pressed flat against his back— the warm trickle down his flanks. I washed where he could barely reach. When he was ready, I filled a jug with the bath water he sat in, poured it over the nape of his neck, over his shoulders, and lastly, over my hands. I was careful not to dry them with the towel hung on the knob— this was his. Gently, I locked the door behind me, his back still turned away, the click thunderous in that quiet. This is not about pity. I did not yet know that kind of love. Nor is it about a son bathing a father too old to wash himself. I was ten years old. He was a young man. Plain and simple, my father made me. It is what he did. He never required a reason, and nobody ever asked why. Hayan Charara 75 1CHARARA_pages_i-164.qxd:Layout 1 11/14/08 2:36 PM Page 75 Usage An assumption, a pejorative, an honest language, an honorable death. In grade school, I refused to accept the mayor’s handshake; he smiled at everyone except people with names like mine. I was born here. I didn’t have to adopt America, but I adapted to it. You understand: a man must be averse to opinions that have adverse impacts on whether he lives or dies. “Before taking any advice, know the language of those who seek to advise you.” Certain words affected me. Sand nigger, I was called. Camel jockey. What was the effect? While I already muttered under my breath, I did so even more. I am not altogether sure we can all together come. Everything was not all right. Everything is not all right. Imagine poetry without allusions to Shakespeare, Greek mythology, the Bible; or allusions without the adjectives “fanatical,” “extremist,” “Islamic,” “right,” “left,” “Christian,” “conservative,” “liberal.” / Language written or translated into a single tongue gives the illusion...


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