Semantic Bleaching

“Life on hold sucks!”
read the bus shelter ad.

They meant the pandemic
I suppose

But what a wry, ironic understatement
If you think of the awesome reality of life on hold.

{That’s awesome in its original meaning
Of inspiring ecstasy and terror, the experience
That the Romantics called the sublime
And that must have also crossed

Aristotle’s mind when he described
Peripeteia, the sudden reversal of fortune
That afflicts our flawed hero and causes us
To experience catharsis, that cleansing
Release of pent-up emotion;

Not awesome in its 21st-century sense,
As in: “This packaged, six-month-old
chocolate-chip cookie
made by a machine is
Awesome!”
or,

“So you’ll take advantage of our
limited-time, this-week-only,
Two-for-one deal
that we’ll actually be offering again next month
and sounds like we’re giving stuff away
if you forget we marked it up 400% to begin with?
That’s
Awesome!”}

No. Not in that sense.
The original sense:

The awesome reality of
Life on hold.

Customers in the supermarket
Frozen in place
Gripping Yorick skulls of well-traveled lettuce
Infinitely poised at the switch from
Succulent to wilting;

Cash register drawers
Permanently open
And you with your hand always thrust
In your pocket
Searching for the loonie
With your face burning red
And all the disapproving
Shoppers behind you
Congealed like half-conceived monuments
In ferocious attitudes of impatience.

Life on hold.
Cyclists lassoed by some
Gravitational lariat as they
Round the corner;

From now until who-knows-when
Held like rabbits in the moment-before,
The eighteen-wheeler
Bearing down on them,
Their hearts literally—literally
In their throats, forever the same prayer
Like an acupuncture needle in their
Lizard brain, jiggling and tingling.

Life on hold for lovers

Caught just as their mouths
Would touch, their lust
Untranslated, love reduced
To an ache in the balls
A detonation in the breasts

Never able to separate
Their gaze, one from the other,
An embryonic “no” quickening
In their eyes. Their embrace stuck
Like a needle on vinyl beside

The awesome stillness
Of the fountain’s jets
Whose water dazzles like crystals in mid-arc
Stoney, silent,
Offering no refreshment.

The suspended sun,
Oozing and pale yellow,
Licks the polar cap,

And a little girl
Stands by the lovers
With an ice-cream cone.

She knows that,
Maybe not this time
But some time,
That top-most scoop, with all its
Pink and turquoise sprinkles,
Its chocolatey drizzle, is going to gasp,
Then totter,
Slip and splat on the
Pavement’s hot griddle;

And the little girl, too, is on hold,

No longer a child but
Not a grown-up either,

Lacking a child’s innocence
And swift amnesia
But not yet old enough to say,

“Fuck it.
I never really liked vanilla
All that much.”

֍

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