Thinking American

By Hayan Charara b. 1972 Hayan Charara

—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,
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.

Hayan Charara, "Thinking American" from The Alchemist’s Diary. Copyright © 2001 by Hayan Charara.  Reprinted by permission of Hanging Loose Press.

Source: The Alchemist’s Diary (Hanging Loose Press, 2001)

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Poet Hayan Charara b. 1972

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Living, Coming of Age, Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Activities, Jobs & Working, Travels & Journeys, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity, Class, Cities & Urban Life


The son of Lebanese immigrants, Hayan Charara grew up in Detroit, Michigan. He earned a BA in English from Wayne State University, an MA in humanities from New York University, and a PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Houston. He is the author of the poetry collections The Alchemist’s Diary (2001) and The Sadness of Others (2006). His work often explores family, loss, identity, and the experience of . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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