Not Only Curves That Rise

COVID brings more than
death for human beings
or New York tigers
fighting the virus
behind the bars
of Bronx Zoo.

It seems to come for
language too.

“Flattening the curve”
you’ve no doubt heard,
as if it were something
real, in reality, and not
an abstract
data set inside
a simulation
of statistical reporting
matched to what
might happen.

“Flattening the curve” –
as if it were the only
way to say human
beings might live
or die

“Social distancing” –
the only
way to say
stay a bit apart from
your fellow
human beings,
or at least their
physical part.

But we take it to mean
stay the hell away
in every way.

“In isolation” –
whether an individual,
region, nation,
global population –
as if we weren’t
already that way –
as if it were somehow
from being

“Hand sanitiser” –
as if we can never
even use them
to keep them

(Sanitary comes from the latin
sanus, meaning
healthy or sane.
Today it means,
simply, clean.)

“Face masks” –
as if we don’t already
wear a version thereof,
or as if there
is some other place
a mask might go
to find a home,
in isolation,
socially distanced
from other
in partnership with,
but not touching too much,
sanitised hands
that grip and hang
onto the curve,
with both fists clenched,
while we sneeze into sweaty elbows,
but don’t let ourselves slip from
those curves,
wherever we might find them,
lest they keep or start rising –
flattening them
at all costs,
flat-lining them

This is a “war”
after all…
Isn’t it?


We create all these phrases
then repeat them
as if they were a given –
as if they’ve always been.
Then we get to parroting them –
words devoid of meaning.

This virus has been circling
the earthly language
body for some time.

(Sanus to sanitary.
From language sane
and healthy
to language clean.)

And now, it seems,
conditions are right.
Language infections rise.
A pandemic death of
the living word…
apparently overnight.

But not quite.

They say language
goes hand-in-dirty-hand
with consciousness –
like two interlinking
curves we’re definitely
with each word;
so then how happy we’ll be –
with faces masked,
hands sanitised,
six-feet apart,
or finally isolated –
when we
bury both
in dirt.

But…then again…
it’s not only

John Stubley

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