Friday, September 9, 2022

First Word: Suzanne Roberts: Quiver


A quiver of arrows. I remember the icon from an early video game – oversized black pixels. I chose the quiver, and bow and arrows, for a weapon. It was less expensive than the gun. The primitive basket would empty out as arrows were used and then “bing” refill automatically after a certain amount of time.

I’ve noticed that in movies they never show hunters or assassins going to retrieve their spent arrows. I can’t help thinking it would be much more efficient if they did. Surely most of the arrows are reusable or require minor repairs. It’s finding them that frustrates. After all, they haven’t ended up where they were aimed. If they had, they’d be easy to find. No, instead they’ve landed under thick green ferns, in the depths of a raspberry bush, in a rotting log. They’ve lodged under a rock in the stream.

So much chaos to gather.

I’ve taken to confessing my love for everyone during the pandemic. Taking an arrow from my quiver, I end most conversations and group meetings with “I love you.” I don’ t expect anything in return, they’re like arrows that won’t be retrieved. And it feels alright, except that it’s another step in the direction of becoming the consummate bleeding heart that I’ve always tried to hold out against.

The arrows I do wish to recall to my quiver have been shot through Facebook. One to an old friend and roommate, now a world-class artist. I went on and on to her about her latest work and her inspiration to me. I didn’t hear back.

Another, just a couple days ago, to a version of ex brother/sister in-laws. I quipped a pandemic, “I love you guys.” Well, I do. I feel that I do. They live in that nostalgic part of my brain where I was young and life was wild. We saw a bit of it together. And I worry about him sometimes– I love you. She showed a degree of unconditional love that I admired and for which I feared for her – I love you. Both so talented in their own ways, inspiring – I love you. I’m a witness on their marriage certificate – I love you. 

A desperate, pandemic I love you. The past matters, the story, the narrative (as they say these days) of my life. The places and the people I knew. I love you.

Just a few months ago I received word that my college piano teacher Don B. had died at the age of 97. “Are you f-ing kidding me?” my soul cried out. How many dozens of times had I thought to try to find him in Minnesota over the last 25 years and then balked? No, he has to be dead, I’d thought. He wasn’t a particularly health conscious man. I remembered the many cigarette scars on his studio’s piano: long, charred channels at the wooden edges, where he had left them because he simply could not stop playing Chopin or Beethoven to do something about the fire.

This was the essence of him – a quintessential romantic. He loved the disconsolate songs of Schumann and Schubert. He took me on as a piano student although I was only self-taught. He called me a Renaissance woman and played chamber music with me. He gave me A-pluses on my college papers. He loved my bleeding heart; it got the job done in “Music from the Romantic Period 101”. But when I thought to visit him, I couldn’t bear to find out he was dead. He wasn’t at that time. Now he is. Tragic. He left a book he wrote and many recordings through which he speaks to me from beyond the grave.


I love you, Don. The arrow that never left the quiver.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

First Word: Imogen Mark: Quiver


(What an onomatopoeic word. How does it achieve that?)

Quiver: It’s rabbits caught in headlights, quivering, shaking with fear, an involuntary movement. Because its voluntary movement, its will is paralysed. Its fur is bristling and its body is shaking but its eyes are fixed, glazed over, no life in them, only the reflection of the light.

But quivering has some physiological purpose, doesn’t it? Is it supposed to activate microscopic body systems that will flood the organism with hormones, telling it to wait, first, in case it hasn’t been seen? 

The lights are as impersonal and distant as the moon. But the moonlight makes my rabbit, not just quiver, it makes it dance, and leap “high and disposedly”*, and throw up its hind legs like a giddy thing. Rabbit experiences moonlight as purely invigorating, not fine, contained quivering, but full out joy in its own self.


*(This is a learned quote from a painting of Queen Elizabeth I of England, dancing, as the painter has it, “high and disposedly”. From your favourite source of obscure and possibly pretentious information. But who likes the description.)

Monday, September 5, 2022

First Word: Pamela Yorston: Quiver



Dead cautious, the mouse peeks out from her leafy shelter, whiskers twitching, nose aquiver in alert concentration, like a runner the instant before the starting gun goes off.  Every nerve alive to gusts and scents and rustles.  Hunger is her incentive; fear keeps her safe.

              On a step above, crouches the cat, frozen. Only his fur stirs gently in the breeze and his tail, out of sight in the shrubbery, gently swishes back and forth, back and forth.

The mouse ventures forward a fraction, pauses, sniffs the air, and again advances.

The cat, unblinking, front half immobile, wiggles his rear end back and forth, faster and faster, winding up for the spring. The mouse, pure instinct, stops dead, freezes and spins, but the cat, an explosion of murderous energy, catapults towards her. In an instant he’s swallowed the distance, but she’s away, scuttling through the undergrowth. She’s still within his reach but he slows abruptly.  He’s never sure what to do at this point.  Hunger is not part of his experience.

Slowly, sinuously he arches his back both front legs pushed forward to the maximum, then shifts his weight to his front legs and stretches out his back legs in turn, luxuriously wiggling each of his toes.  He settles crouched on all fours, eyes closed, soaking up the sun – mouse forgotten

The mouse, still quivering some distance away pokes her head around a stalk and listens.  The dangers of the day have just begun.