A Text Lost in Rubble (a Narrative Poem)
#1
I.
We have done something we shouldn’t have,
but we do not know exactly what it was.
Our actions must have fallen short of their standards,
or perhaps we have violated their concept of fairness,
for we would never punish ourselves in such a way.
This bad behavior of ours proves that we are bad people with tainted characters, rotten to the core.
We are inferior and worthless because of our bad behavior,
and others will look down their noses upon us if they discover what we have done
(but we do not know exactly what it was).
II.
We are in constant danger of punishment—
rarely have we turned the electricity on in the building
and taken out the trash at first light,
when we encounter those men already congregating on the street corners and the shipping dock:
but these men are not a part of us,
they are apparently wanderers from the far,
distant edge of the city.
How they have found us amidst a labyrinth of skyscrapers and debris we cannot fathom.
Nevertheless, they have come, and multiply in number as the weeks pass by.
They are not even troubled by the intense heat in the air.
III.
It is said we are in possession of a sealed envelope that contains a piece of paper
on which is written what we have done
(but it is so terrible, so immoral, and so wrong that we dare not attempt to find it).
Maybe we have caused some horrible event outside this building?
Maybe we have thought that we could not have hurt anyone no matter what we did?
But can we be perfect?
Can we be all-knowing?
Can we be all-powerful?
Can we predict the future with certainty?
So far, we have not been able.
IV.
We are in a very bad way.
Those men sleep in the gutters
(they detest high rises).
The smoke in the sky has no effect on them.
They clean their guns and sharpen their knives to pass the time.
The sidewalk, once kept so pure, in their hands has become a toilet:
we sweep what we can of their defecation but the next day it has returned,
and we fear the bruises from their heavy fists and the bullets from their guns.
The church officials will not communicate with us
(even though we should be able, we cannot control what others do).
What is more, we are most worthy of condemnation—
therefore, we must have done something bad.
And since we are bad, we deserve to suffer
(we must suffer for the rest of our lives).
V.
Each day at first sight of the men,
we flee inside the building and lock the doors.
Even in the burning rain, they will not seek shelter.
We do not speak to them,
and they do not have the ability to read
what we write on paper and tape to the windows.
We have never heard them speak, but through the thick glass
we can hear a gurgling sound from their throats as of a crocodile.
We play music through the speakers to tame them,
but they refuse to be calm.
Sometimes their necks swell up like a frog
and then they scratch in the air with their long, black, fingernails.
Why?  Because it is their purpose.
Whatever they scavenge, they destroy and tear to bits.
We cannot call it harmful.
They destroy, and we cannot keep them from doing so.
We shouldn’t be wasting our time combating them anyway.
We should be doing something productive,
but we are lazy.
So, we do not deserve to be without burden
(we are too self-centered and ought to be punished).
We have not been punished enough…
or else we would do something about this.
But we have no energy and are inadequate.
Our badness is uncontrollable.
VI.
They have destroyed much of what we own,
and we are now in a very bad way…
we witness how the priest from the old temples grieves in the alley.
At the precise moment he leaves the vicinity,
he is brought back by those strange men,
as if hording him like a slab of meat.
Even the alley cats fall under their influence:
the felines are often seen joining the men
in tracking the priest down like predators and their prey.
(The priest is restless and no longer tries to leave.
And when he has distracted the men away from us,
we do not leave either, for if they catch us,
we cannot speculate what would happen.
It is bad enough as it is).
VII.
Maybe our suffering will one day reverse
whatever it is that we have done.
But this does not satisfy,
as we will only do more bad things in the future
(but maybe others will love us if we are punished).
Maybe one day we will be more productive.
VIII.
Only days ago, one of the men in green uniform with the stripes on his sleeve
considered that he would dig up the articles the men had horded.
However, he only did it once and not a second time—
now they smear pieces of his body on the windows and run up to the doors,
dragging his body alongside themselves,
and hold the limp corpse by his collar up to the pane.
The stripes have turned red,
and we are now in a very bad way…
IX.
If we die, we are not even good enough for the devil to have us,
nor the angels in heaven.
Our only hope is to endure our suffering here.
Anxiety consumes us like cancer,
and we will never stop hating ourselves,
for we will never learn,
and we will never change.
X.
We think we have really seen in the flesh
a glimpse of the elusive Bishop as he stood on the fifth floor
of the high rise across the street.
He is a rare sight to the outside,
spending the days with the clergy in his church quarters.
But this time he was enduring, as it appeared to us,
at our own windows.
(He stared with slouched back at the events before him).
Humans do not make mistakes.
We are human; therefore, we should not make mistakes—
so, we do not accept ourselves as imperfect beings.
But we have made a mistake
(although we do not know exactly what it was),
and we have not been perfect.
Now the corpses of the dead men who once wore long coats litter the streets.
Their coats have turned crimson and the strange men feast on their flesh and bones,
and we are in a very bad way.
XI.
We have failed in our obligation to please everyone around us…
so, we are irritated,
we are overwhelmed,
and we are insecure.
There is only one truth we can find in all of our troubles.
A truth that stands alone in our minds,
and that is this:
We cannot do good if we do not feel this way.
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#2
Torkelburger,
First thing that comes to mind is the title. I don't think you need to state the poem is a narrative poem. I won't go too far into the verses as there's so much filler, so many words that can feel wasted, it's honestly hard to continue reading after the first few lines. I find resolve by VIII in having continued as the reader, but theres so much fluff surrounding even the final stanzas it's hard to give a line-by-line critique. There are others here more well versed in narrative poetry that may find some constructive suggestions which I cannot give, but this poem currently isnt doing it for me, as it feels like it needs a TL;DR after reading it.

Best of luck,
Mike
How thoughtful
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#3
Hi Torkel,

The real jewel of this poem are "those men".  The passages about them are really excellent, but there's way too much "we are to blame, we deserve this" etc.  Say it once, then focus on the haunting images/story of these men who come to torment you.  Then maybe say your mea culpa again at the end.  The interactions with the church are interesting, but a bit wordy.  Again, I'd focus on the men (homeless I'm assuming) vs. the church, not your interactions with the church, or at least be more succinct.

I think the poem could begin with section 2; that's where it got interesting.  Stanza 1 almost made me give up.  I like the "sealed envelope" in stanza 3, but then it goes off to more "what did we do?" and as I said, enough of that. Perhaps it could be the first stanza.  Starting with stanza 4 I think the poem really picks up.

Hope this makes a little sense.  I really do think you've got a ton of effective lines here and a story worth telling.
“All persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.”  Kurt Vonnegut
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#4
.
Hi TB,
I’m in agreement with Weeded on this, vastly overwritten, repetitive
Our actions must have fallen short of their standards,
or perhaps we have violated their concept of fairness,
how is one not a restatement of the other?
And nonsensical in far too many places.
It is said we are in possession of a sealed envelope that contains a piece of paper
on which is written what we have done
(but it is so terrible, so immoral, and so wrong that we dare not attempt to find it).
You can’t be in possession of something that you ‘dare not attempt to find’. If it’s in your possession clearly you have dared, and found.
Or
The priest is restless and no longer tries to leave.


And I’m not sure the conclusion justifies the length of the journey to reach it. I didn’t for me.


I think TqB’s idea has some merit,
focus on the men (homeless I'm assuming) vs. the church, not your interactions with the church, or at least be more succinct.
especially the last part Smile


Best, Knot


.
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#5
Thanks everyone for the excellent feedback. I will most definitely fix the title (delete the narrative label), remove the first stanza completely, make sure things are only stated once, and perhaps develop the men/church interaction (without being verbose or repetitive). Keep editing it down.

I kept too much of my "word vomiting" on my scratch paper when I had become inspired and did about five separate, 10-minute (timed) freewriting sessions. But the words kept spinning in my head and I didn't let it sit for very long, so when it came time to edit I just couldn't figure out what to get rid of. I'm going to let it sit and then work on it for a couple weeks before doing the next draft.

Just wanted to get an idea of what to focus on. Now I have a good start.
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