Lance Larson Aphorisms for a Lonely Planet

I enter the photography exhibit and feel relief wash over me—no faces to contend with. Twenty-five portraits of high school students in uniform, girls and boys, high definition, all shot from behind. No eyes or mouths, only the backs of heads. No breasts or boyish chests, only shoulders and spines, sturdy butts and sinuous legs. What mercy, to be spared, for now, a Levinasian encounter with the other. For once, my empathy can lap at ankles and rise slowly, like the sea.

I write in the now about the past hoping to be read in the future. The uncapped pen is a time machine.

The pooch feels the leash only when it walks too fast or too slow.

During my morning stroll the day after Halloween, I keep my eyes peeled for fallen candy. In this block a Starburst, in the next a Milky Way. I unwrap each treat reverently, starved for the ineffable—cosmic bounty, a gift from the gods? I open my fat kid mouth and I chew.

If you move an animal’s bones, its spirit will follow you home.

Spilled lemonade: the way ants gather, you’d think it was happy hour.

Crickets hop about as if they’ve won the lottery.

How needy I am. A sparrow lands on my shovel, and I brighten, as if I’d just been paid a compliment.

How can tossing coins in a wishing pond go wrong? Even if nothing magical happens, some hungry kid will fish out your offerings when the guard isn’t looking and trade your hopes for an orange creamsicle.

We almost never kiss our lovers’ toes.

The hand has many appetites.

In southern France, I saw, by flashlight, cave paintings 15,000 years old. No rivers or oceans or trees, no dead gods, no miraculously resurrected gods, not even suns or moons. Mostly animals: bison and bear, mammoths and horses, and of course, the fleet-of-foot, elusive deer. Also human hand prints in red and black, some no bigger than a child’s.

Falcons rarely fly just for fun.

In Google Translate, I come in peace offers options in Africans, Punjabi, even Esperanto. No translation in Navajo. So what else is new?

Mirage: ocular proof of the oasis that got away.

Some doors we close so we can walk away forever. Some we close so we can open them again in five minutes.

As a young father, studying anthills with my three-year-old son, I learned anew to love colonies, even if my son couldn’t pronounce what he could point to. Aye, he said, instead of ant. Ten thousand teeming ant legs teaming—aye, indeed. Or was he saying eye, as in boy watching, or maybe I, as in I wish I was tiny. Perhaps even Ai!, a supplicant conjuring some lost deity by leaving out the consonants. This much I know, he pointed and the world inched along in nibbling awe.

Emptied of children’s cries, the park is more memorial than playground.

At the palace, a pinecone on each chair. I’ve never been told so eloquently where not to park my tush.

Vacations breed vacations—or dreams of them, often to escape the one I’m in the middle of.

To keep the dead alive, repeat their stories. To bury the living, set their stories to an Andrew Lloyd Webber melody and post it on YouTube.

A dog’s loyalty is Victorian, a cat’s is postmodern.

A starfish cannot count its own arms, a tea rose knows not its perfume.

Too much zen is rarely fatal.

A neighbor of mine passes the tedium of long Sunday meetings by taking out his capped pen and tracing the contours of his son’s face. As much pilgrimage as ritual. Connect temple and cheek, circle each eye, slide down the nose, circumnavigate the plump acreage of the lips. This boy, if he were a cat, would purr. Ah, to be turned into a masterpiece and erased in the same loving gesture.

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