Jul/Aug 2017 Miscellaneous

Workshop 3: A Poem for the Arrest of a Homeless Man Inside Rutgers' Conklin Hall

by Antonio Lopez

Image courtesy of the British Library Photostream

On March 22nd, 2017, at approximately 11:42 pm, a homeless man was found loitering Rutgers University's Conklin Hall. He was promptly arrested on-site by school police on charges of public intoxication. In this third workshop of our ongoing reading series, "The World is Your Text," you'll be asked to analyze the event. This assignment, unlike others, will require some research outside of class in order to be more familiar with the case. Moreover, it will be a creative project. That is, once you've reached a strong grasp of the event itself, you are to then craft a poem that explores (and addresses) some of the literary terms we've developed in this class.

Background: Conklin Hall is no stranger to unconventional interactions. Consider the following description of the first-floor lobby during rush hour, jotted down yesterday afternoon.

From the head-banging Beats
of subwoofin' antennas,
comes the long-dreaded debate
of two black brothers
caught in long, matted dread-lock.
            "Yo, talk shit 'bout Drake's
            album one more time!"

The Boricua trill of a güerita
with cascade cabello,
white highlights gushing forth like
el agua nacida del Yunque:
            "Le dije que me llevara al hospital
            pa' ver a Pepe.
            Ya ves que se le alcanzaron
            todas las Coca's.
            El doctor dice que trae
            los riñones como una piedra."

The hijabi scuffle of two Arab sisters,
one holding a Shakespeare textbook to mine
the rhinestones of their God-given tongue.

Their voices
veiled by the Anglo-Saxon curriculum
whose ink floats like money oil atop the henna
which bursts from their brown hands.
            "Habibi, I'm tired of this old
            white professor. He asks us to
            compare texts ALL DAY, but groaned
            when I said, 'No. The travel ban's
            not exactly like Nazi anti-Semitism.

            But before it all happened, the
            U.S. President excluded them
            from entering the country too!'"

As you're investigating this arrest, keep these questions in mind, as ways to guide you into critical analysis.

1. Who is the main character?
2. In what ways is the author playing with time?
3. Consider what role do "minor" characters play in this real-life "story"?
4. Where is the diaspora?
5. Consider the position of the speaker.
6. Is there symbolism at work?
7. Finally, analyze the syntax of key dialogue.

In the following pages, you'll find some sample responses to the preceding questions.

Good luck!

1. A student of the street, graduate of University Ave., juror of the 4 am Newark chill.
    He sits on the bench of the 8th circuit—i.e., the 74 bus-stop to Kearny.
    Gathers key testimony from the Muslim brother working at the Salvation Army:
    "They start laying out the beds 'round 8:30,
    but if Pedro's on shift, he lets you check in a lil' early."
    Drafts dissent opinion onto the back of a tossed Domino's box—
    to the question, "Does anyone give a fuck?"

2. He slips off his black, Hefty-brand robe,
    and slouches on a plastic blue chair.

    Seated at the front entrance,
    he hallucinates his parole officer who,
    upon congratulating his release, is slow to shake his fist,
    blacker than they've ever seen, blacker than the crack
    of his cell's walls that he stuffed with outdated tour maps,
    bugging his top-bunk mate,
    "First, imma see Venice Beach.
    Heard it's so warm out there,
    folks just sleep on the sand and shit.
    Folks with homes, man!"

3. The graveyard-janitor walks by,
    his baritone the direct bloodline
    of Gil Scott Heron's lungs,
    ashened by the acid battery
    of gestapo fangs.

    He croons down the hallway,
    "Me and this broomstick
    walking side by side."

4. In his diaphragm—

    The first officer scribbles his name on a notepad,
    and asks the Newark nomad to recite it for the fifth time,
    "OK, so A. J... I?"
    Naw, wit a E."

    His partner holds the 16oz can
    of Blue Ribbon as if it were infected,
    her black gloves dangling from the dainty grasp.

    The officer's tongue staggers
    on the chalk line of his folded world map.
    Asks, "Are you a student here?"

    He shakes his head to a breathless song
    blaring in the concrete river outside;
    that only mutes at the doorsteps
    of St. Michael's Church;

    that lulls to savior
    the scraps of dignity
    tossed from eye contact.

5. A twenty-three-year-old professor
    returns to the Writing Center
    with a wrapped Subway sandwich

    only to see the vagrant man
    ordered to face the wall
    of Conklin 139, home to hundreds of
    professional development meetings
    where faculty stain six-year-old handouts
    with greasy pizza, battling over what grade to give,
    battling for the last Coke Zero;
    where they pin to their vested breasts
    the clarion, "How can we serve our students?"

6. They fit the man's entire possessions—
    a folded Dixie cup,
    a crumpled Walgreens receipt,
    three ripped Sweet and Low packets,
    a Pete's hot sauce packet leaking from the lasso's end,
    a blue and yellow birthday card that spells in balloon font, "Happy Birthday
    two bottle caps facing upwards—one Sprite, the other blank,
    construction paper cut-outs of a gingerbread family,
    a clump of bathroom paper towels
    all inside a sterile, medium-sized Ziploc bag
    —and call it "Evidence."

7. Of the man's final statement as they
    drag him outside the freshly-mopped floor.

    The officers cite his Miranda Rights,
    while he, inside the refuge of his collar shirt,
    mutters the words, "Three square meals..."


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