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Hayan Charara



A heavy unshaven man
holding the late-edition
with calloused hands
doesn’t know how much more
he can take. He’s been
photographed three times,
each image lost or unsuitable.
He has had to reconcile
to the fact the history
of his face is personalized.
For the likes of me,
standing in line wasn’t
an ordeal, only a series
of predictable incidents,
while the impatient
and indignant changed
the subject, and turned
to the footsteps in the hallway,
to signs in the prevailing
languages. I was born here,
I have nothing left to conceal.
When the clerk chides
the mother and her child
beside me for blocking
the center aisle, only she
is worried. Do you understand?
I was educated in the proper books,
disciplined in the correct grammar.
I can trace my name
to a great-uncle who retired
with emphysema from
the Ford Rouge Plant,
and it doesn’t matter now
that he was buried
in Michigan City under a name
he couldn’t pronounce.
I may forget the man
who appears ashamed
for asking the wrong questions,
though he looks like my father.
Tomorrow I may forget
the procedures history
will not take into account
for years. But the newspapers
recognize an epidemic,
and you should know
I’ve learned how to read them --
“to believe that a headline
is a fact and all stories are suspect.”
I might be inclined,
in New York City, during
the late-nineteen nineties,
to suspect everything regardless
how insignificant or real.
I might be wrong. But all
that’s before us says otherwise.


-- for Dioniso D. Martinez

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,
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 straight 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.