At a college in Dearborn,
Michigan, I read a poem
about watching girls
at camp hold their breaths
under the showers
so I could see
their breasts swell.
Some people call Dearborn
a hub of “terrorist” activity.
I’ve placed the word terrorist
between quotation marks
because “Arab” or “Muslim”
or “people who look like
the terrorists we fear”
is what they mean.
In the poem about the camp
I also use quotation marks
around the words
“pussy” and “chicken-shit,”
but for different reasons — 
I’m waiting in line
to jump over a dam
into a river where other boys
have drowned, and I hesitate,
until someone shouts
“pussy” and “chicken-shit”
and you don’t need me
to tell you what I did,
what I had to do.
A famous poet says
for a speaker to express
authority, he must possess
three virtues, one of which
is passion.
After the reading
a young man
approached me.
He turned out to be
the younger brother of someone
I knew and wrote
a poem about, a lifeguard
who saved a drowning girl.
The child pulled from the pool
could have been a boy — 
I don’t remember,
it doesn’t matter.
I care about what I’m saying — 
that matters. Passion
is a deep-seated conviction,
says the famous poet.
You need to believe
that I believe.
I told the young man
in Dearborn about his brother
saving a life, as if
he didn’t already know.
He listened, politely,
until I stopped talking
and then he said
I was out of line and had acted
inappropriately. How,
I asked. He said I shouldn’t
use words like that.
Which words, I asked.
He was getting flustered.
I asked him again.
I wanted him to say
“pussy” and “chicken-shit.”
He said I should not use words
like that in front of women.
By “women,” he meant
Arab and Muslim women.
Maybe he meant
all women. I don’t know,
I didn’t ask.
A lot of Arabs and Muslims
live in Dearborn.
That’s why some people
think of it as a hotbed
of Islamic terrorism.
The phrase “a hotbed
of Islamic terrorism”
should probably appear
between quotes every time
people use it, even if
they are Arab or Muslim,
like me. The other virtues
a speaker should possess,
says the famous poet,
are discrimination
and inclusiveness.
By “discrimination”
he means the speaker
should come to his position
without ignoring but considering
opposed positions,
and finding them wanting.
By “inclusiveness” he means
the speaker immediately
sees connections
between the subject at hand
and other issues.
Also, the speaker needs
to make the reader believe
he is doing his subject justice,
that he is relating it
to the world.
This makes his voice
communal, speaking not
for any community
but with the goal
of making communities,
the first of which is
that of speaker and reader.
The young man speaking
on behalf of Arab and Muslim
women told me that my poems
were “indecent”
and “immoral,”
that I should be ashamed,
that I was a terrible Muslim.
“Go fuck yourself,”
is what I wanted to say,
but — maybe he was right — 
so I smiled, I thanked him
for listening, and I told him
I loved his brother, and, “Please,
will you say I said hello.”

More Poems by Hayan Charara