“Beginner’s Lesson” by Malcolm Alexander

Malcolm Alexander


If you wish to be wealthy, duck beneath
the topcoat of a well-dressed river
until you come up with a mossy boot
filled with shiners. Spend them wisely.

To tread lightly on the earth,
first breathe in and out slowly
to sense how oxygen walks barefoot,
then observe butterflies, so weightless
even our poetry burdens them.

Avoid mistaking sadness for blueberries,
but if this happens, remember only one
of the two tastes like a somersault.

Make nothing more of the moon
than what it is, a great big pebble
hunting for a shoe, not to be confused
with the heart, likewise a vagabond.

Inside of every stray cat lurks a person
who discarded love. Remember this
when you bend over to wind them up.

If you feel compelled to fly a flag,
note how it struggles in vain to be a rainbow
and how envy will make it twist and flap
like a tongue. Consider instead a kite.

If you desire to reach heaven,
have your body buried in an aspen grove.
In time, all of you will wick up
into a loud version of it.

If the noise of the human world overwhelms you,
trace the voicebox of an orchid with your finger.
When you get to the aria, listen.
But beware, for beauty can be a lacewing
or a meteor, and lands wherever it pleases.

When you finish reading a poem,
bend it around so you can see
yourself in it. Then laugh out loud.
Everything else now should come easy.

from Rattle #26, Winter 2006
Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention


Malcolm Alexander: “I began to read poetry and then later attempted to write it, not only while in prison, but on account of it. Ironically, I don’t have to struggle like most folks to find the time to write. On the other hand, this place sure as hell ain’t Yaddo. Though the idea of ‘Beginner’s Lessons’ came to me as a quirk of wordplay and image about an old boot filled with golden fish, the various stanzas went through three years of revisions in an attempt to make each one just offbeat enough to make a person think about its underlying truth.”

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