Aphorisms for a Lonely Planet
“Time to push back the frontiers,” my father used to say, stepping into the morning like Amerigo
Vespucci. He worked for a phosphate company and drove a powder blue station wagon called Ethel.
Someone changed Stalin’s diapers, someone nursed Chairman Mao.
There are four paths to happiness. Three require that you speak Swedish and take up cross-country
skiing, and I forget the fourth.
I push my trash can to the curb with a full twelve seconds to spare, then stand there, in my
pajamas and bare feet. This is our weekly ritual: me giving a thumbs up to the garbage man, him
nodding once at another uncombed idiot. And a grinding mouth chewing everything between us.
Those claiming dead pets never return know nothing about favorite passwords.
How can people sleep without a clock beside their bed? It’s bad enough to suffer
insomnia, but not knowing how much shut-eye I’m missing makes me tired.
I was nine or ten, helping the fix-it man in our kitchen. Could you pass me
the extension cord, he said. I did. I mean the male end, Fix-it Man said. I colored.
Not because the analogy was confusing but because it was clear, and a complete stranger
was reading my dirty fourth-grade mind.
Wrote this one in a snowstorm in a cabin. If only you could feel the flakes drifting in
from the margins, if only I could warm your fingers at the fire.
She: Of course I worried about forgetting the baby somewhere. Like in
a grocery store or at the beach, or maybe in an elevator downtown.
He: But you didn’t, and that baby grew up just fine.
She: There’s more to it than that. Some days, carrying
him up the stairs to our apartment, I’d picture myself tossing him over the rail and into the pool.
He: I remember that pool, a perfect kidney shape but too cold to swim in.
She: Not to drown him but for the splash. A smallish splash. It would have been
so easy—I mean the trajectory of it, the aim. I had very strong arms.
There’s happy. Then there’s petting-a-stray-cat-after-napping-at-Keats’-grave happy. One should never confuse the two.
We’re like neglected dogs: we gobble our food, bark menacingly as long as we’re behind a fence, then circle three times and
lie down in our same circus of fleas.
In the vintage shop, a bin of wooden angel wings on sale, sizes galore but only sold in pairs—one left, one right. As
if otherwise the world might lurch out of orbit.
Lance Larsen is the author of five poetry collections, most recently What the Body Knows (Tampa 2018). He’s won a number of awards, including a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from Ragdale, Sewanee, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Six of his nonfiction pieces have been listed as notables in Best American Essays. He teaches at BYU, where he serves as department chair and fools around with aphorisms: “When climbing a new mountain, wear old shoes.” In 2017 he completed a five-year appointment as Utah’s poet laureate.