Quote of the Hour

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

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An Incomplete List of People I Wish I Were Having Christmas Dinner With:

Eve
Bob Dylan
Charles Dickens
Don Quixote
William Shakespeare
Amelia Earhart
Monty Python
Philip Glass
Odysseus
Tom Waits
Joan of Arc
Merlin
Pablo Neruda
Scheherazade
Salvador Dali
Willa Cather
Jacques Cousteau
Pandora
Mary Magdalene
Tarzan
Sherlock Holmes
Ben Franklin
James Earl Jones
Umberto Eco
Van Morrison
Crazy Horse
Lynda Barry
Hua Mulan
Dionysus
Iron Man
inventor of the wheel
Roald Dahl
Cleopatra
Bill Bryson
Oscar Wilde

THE MELANCHOLY MBA by Richard Donnelly

A six-figure education must certainly lead to a six-figure salary with an end-of-the-year bonus, a guaranteed parking spot, tailoring at Brooks Brothers, coy glances from potential lovers, and entrance to the company box at Target Field. With an MBA, you have a ticket to the inner circle. You are someone who Must Be Appreciated.

Or not.

When you read Richard’s poems from his latest book, The Melancholy MBA, you will immediately find the strange, the weary, and the lunacy going on at your workplace validated. You’ll read about computers possessed by Satan, mere acquaintances who don’t filter their thoughts before telling you things they shouldn’t, confrontations with drug dealers, unyielding sexual tension, a boss who pulls employees’ hair, and a colleague like this:

JELLY BEANS

after interrupting him
in his office
for the third time
I had to
move
his giant jar of jelly beans
so he could look
at the whole file

we had lost almost
three hundred thousand dollars
since 10:00 am
he seemed undisturbed
his TV was on
loud
he peeled an orange
slowly
look he finally
said to me
are you the one
eating my jelly beans

And just as importantly, you’ll appreciate the fact that Richard’s poems don’t read like long drawn-out emails full of too many useless details. Sometimes I get the impression he’s writing at gunpoint, but in a good way, or we’d never be holding his poetry in our hands. Richard is like a still. Every poem that comes out of him is already poteen. Each one is refined to its swig-of-fire essentials:

THE GOOD MANAGER

I am not
responsible for
your car
your purse
your trouble
with
an ex-
boyfriend I
am
your manager
not
your godmother
I cannot
get you
a raise outside
the normal
channels
I do not live
for you
I have
a home and how
I feel about
my wife
has nothing to
do with
you
now let me
do my work
and
you do yours
and
while you’re at
it button
up the top
of that blouse

The real wonder is that Richard’s speaker has been able to transcend the daily grind with rich and philosophical romanticism:

TALISMAN

if I could only have you with me
I’m sure I could do so much better
I would show the HR Manager exactly
how to gain efficiency
save money have fun of course
have fun but she would see that by
watching you the
tall girl with the huge laugh golden
hair pink nails dark slacks
white blouse opened just so
brown eyes sparkling like champagne
and if the buyer is a man
my god there’s nothing more to say

we could take on the world you and I
my lucky thing my talisman
the streets of Minneapolis will ring
with our laughter
the sun will always shine
and when the day is through I
would be as thankful as a man can be
our eyes holding each other our
breath the same breath with faces close
in some hidden trattoria
our lips the same lips our words
just the same and I swear
I would only hold your hand a moment
I would not touch you

Sometimes, as writers, we dare to touch our hopes and dreams. You write a poem and the dream may or may not manifest. Sometimes you just end up with a poem. Is that enough? I don’t know. Too metaphysical for me. But Richard writes a beauty called:

OFFICE WINDOW

they gave me a new office with a window last March
here I am nearing middle age and this is the first
time I can see the Minneapolis sunshine
and a gleaming skyline
the IDS Tower beckoning like a woman
I would like to own that woman

I would like to group up wealthy laughing investors
I would promote control hire dark striking
models to pose
and do nothing else I
would persuade whole boardrooms to
sell to me at impossibly low prices banks would rush to
help rules would be ignored

all you have heard then is not true
I have not backed down from Hagan or worked
nights at Citgo
men in fact fear me women
are intrigued I have no boss no wife
no man calls me son
I am master of my own fate
and have dominion over all things

Richard writes in the mad pulse that only poets seem to have. And maybe this is why he is able to carry off the poem, “Poor People”:

POOR PEOPLE

there are some poor people
in the world
I see them at the Northland Park
Community Center or
Dell Foods in
Avery
they wear dirty sweatshirts
stained sweat pants old
broken tennis shoes
their hair hangs
around their faces
their oily hair
it’s almost like being crazy
is what it looks like to
me until one of their kids
kicks in your
door at two a.m. and says
crazy
I’ll show you crazy

I love that poem for its bluntness and its bull’s eye insight, and I applaud Richard’s willingness to point out that some people’s lives can be uncomfortable to look at as well as downright scary. Though we may work for society, society doesn’t work for everybody and sometimes that notion comes with ugly consequences. In fact, Richard begins and ends his book with poems about people who aren’t balancing work with student loans or a mortgage, a spouse, and kids in need of healthcare. People on the fringe such as the homeless man in, “I Told You”, and the moving poem, “Retarded Man” who seems to be the only one in the book who gets what he wants. Why write about these people if not to have us contemplate what life might be like if we can’t get it “right”, or the odd sense of peace that might exist if we didn’t have the obligations and commitments society expects us to endure.

By setting office scenarios aside, Richard gives the reader time away from the proverbial desk to contemplate art. To be baffled and then beguiled by a rose’s bloom. His talent for taking an entire library and spinning it down to one sentence becomes evident in this simple but elegant poem:

FLOWER

everyone
has
a favorite
flower
and
you
are mine

When we get tired and afraid, the way we often do, Richard also gives us the tender “Barn in the Rain” poem providing a different kind of sheltering experience that allows us to return “as good as you ever were.”

We return. We keep going.  I’m fascinated by his poem “Cabo” a word I had to look up, which is Spanish and means after all, or in the end. In the end, perhaps, Richard’s speaker is speaking for anyone expecting—of all the crazy things—fulfillment. It’s hard to grasp though. Maybe because fulfillment is hard to define. Maybe because it’s always in flux. Probably because it seems like those in charge are the ones handing it out or taking it away.

And what about those people in charge?  In Richard’s poems we hear all the details of what upper management feels like, stripped of any sense of stature or even enthusiasm. Success is fleeting. Pleasure provisional. The Melancholy MBA is about the speaker not getting what he wants. In this world, we are not guaranteed anything. An advanced degree does not promise love, solitude, or simple understanding. It does not prevent being confronted with mortality as in Richard’s poem, “Cancer” or in the compelling, “Bellini”. If anything it causes more pressure. More stress. Less room for fun. You have to work on multiple computers at the same time, for godssake. When it comes down to it, success may be having someone who is just happy to be with you.

Read through The Melancholy MBA and you will feel it all—the weight, the genius, the discord—all of it gorgeous and all of it transporting. Richard’s poems are personal but not absolute. They’re tough and gentle, chaste and fine and humble, provocative, funny, and often sensuous when he writes about the office trenches, married life, flowers, and that all too elusive, sought after affliction called love.

Still, his speaker is no deserter. Despite what has happened before, you can picture this man adjusting his tie yet again, and you can almost feel the air stir from the wink he’s giving the next woman he meets.

More information about Richard Donnelly can be found at his website: The Melancholy MBA The Melancholy MBA is published by Brick Road Poetry Press of Columbus, Georgia. For the cost of a lonely feast for one or a cheap lunch for two you can buy it through

Brick Road Poetry Press   Amazon   Powell’s  or   Barnes and Noble

Why I Love Saint Paul

I come from a place where people assume that T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” has something to do with ditch drainage. Here in the Sixth Chamber used bookstore, I am darn near overwhelmed with the subjects and titles carried by James Williams, owner of the bookshop. Sixth Chamber has such a literary atmosphere you can’t help but lose your penchant for ignorance.

Sixth Chamber Used Bookstore at 1332 Grand Avenue, St. Paul

Not only are there the expected literary classics, but books on taxidermy, metaphysics, brontology, government ideologies, toponymics, and philosophy. Subjects that can make your palms sweat. Titles like Serita Stevens’ Book of Poisons, The Maxims of La Rochefoucauld, Lady Gregory’s Journals from 1916-1930, Athanassakis’ Homeric Hymns—hymns like this one that leaves you swooning:

“Sing to me, O Muse, of Hermes’ dear child, the goat-footed, two-horned, din-loving one who roams over wooded glades together with dance-loving nymphs; they tread on the peaks of sheer cliffs, calling upon Pan, the splendid-haired and unkempt god of shepherds, to whose domain all the snowy hills and mountain peaks and rocky paths fall.”

Hymns written 800 years before the birth of Christ that would probably make a good country music song:

“For my part, O Far-Shooter, I will graze the roving cattle on the pastures of the mountain and the horse-nurturing plain, where the cows are mounted by the bulls to give birth to males and females at random.”

 Not only will you find chest-thumping books by Poe, Twain, and Dickens, but the novels by Russian writers will weep to you from the bookshelves with their Russian souls. Zoo, or Letters Not about Love by Viktor Shklovsky, is an epistolary novel written while he was in exile in Berlin.

You’ll find books by Rimbaud, Maupassant, Günter Grass, Jules Verne, Ovid and a twenty-volume set called the International Library of Famous Literature, published in 1898. Open up Volume VI and read Sir Thomas More’s “Utopia and its Customs.” It’ll make you shake your head and say, man, I don’t believe it.

There are books on the nature of Wiccan cooking and how Brian Boru, the Irish king, got stabbed by a wicked Dane while giving thanks to God. Endless shelves of books. Books on the spirituality of fly fishing, and why God is Red. There are art books on architecture, photography, Brazilian pottery, and German Impressionism–which sings in a completely different choir than American Impressionism, I can tell you that.

By opening other books in the Sixth Chamber, you can learn that Byron had a clubfoot, that Saint Theresa of Ávila was a Spanish mystic who gave Martin Luther a piece of her mind, and that Joe Hill wants his ashes scattered anyplace but Utah. The poetry found in Tiepolo’s Hound will make you think those lines like “a slash of pink on the inner thigh” came spewing out of a granite hillside. Unfussy, uncrushable consolations.

You can get biographies about people like Emma Goldman, the mad anarchist who lost any charm she might have had sitting in prison for two years because she opposed conscription during World War I. She was the kind of woman who came out of nowhere and went right back into it. The non-homemaker type.

Or you can get autobiographies like In Me Own Words, by Bigfoot. Okay yeah, it’s a work of illustrated fiction conjured up by Graham Roumieu out of Canada, but it is hilarious.

 You can get books on philosophers in every hue and tint. Philosophers who stay up all night writing about how important sleep is, philosophers who look at a hard-boiled egg and wonder, what kind of symbolism is that? Philosophers who see bats dangling like broken hearts from their attic ceilings, centipedes crawling backwards, and candles burning faster on one side than the other and wonder, what’s it all mean? I don’t know about you, but philosophers crack me up.

The Sixth Chamber used bookstore is a fifteen-minute walk from my house. Its name comes from nothing sinister but is a reference to William Blake and his mythology of books. It’s a good place to duck into out of the now approaching winter. It’s the kind of place where they want you to “Sit down. Read up.” So do it. The chairs are comfortable and the lamps are always lit.