national anthology of the best undergraduate writing 2014

Augustus

Jordan Peterson  • 
Simmons College

I.

 

For three days, the city has been on fire.

Flames so hot the streets of gold are beginning to run,

bringing pillagers and housewives with their prayer-lined tongues

to their knees at abandoned intersections,

armed with buckets, the collection plates for

melting footprints of fallen deities

and long lost relatives.

 

 

II.

 

The effects of tragedy on a person are often unbecoming.

I will have to pretend that I have always been this way,

as a desperate search for the gilded fossils of

Caesar’s sandals commences outside my window.

No one knows how

 

or has even attempted

to put these fires out

and a fourth day of heat

has charred the bottoms

of my already blistering feet.

 

 

III.

 

Mausoleum is a word

that dresses up a tomb,

not in flowers,

but in syllables.

In a moment of weakness, or strength, I press the urn

of Augustus against my breast

and fasten the buttons of my coat.

I have stolen the emperor’s ashes, and am thus far

unashamed.

 

 

IV.

 

When the rain finally comes,

it shuffles through this place like regret.

I remove the urn from my coat

and watch wide-mouthed children

watch the sky, dancing innocently

to the rhythm of their own relief.

 

 

V.

 

The fires have all gone out.

I have stopped pretending.

 

On the wet street, Augustus sits next to me, a glorified jar of mud.

I find the only building left whose walls are still erect,

dip my finger in his soot, and tell the story of our collapse:

 

“we have done this to ourselves”

and beneath it,

“this isn’t worth repeating”