Thursday, October 02, 2008

342. Sheldon Slithers into Socialism

Sallow shell-shocked Sheldon
having sold all his seashells
from the salty seashore, set out to sell
salt cellars to the sly but shy bank tellers
that in their lunch hours lounge and loaf
on the busy busy Bahnhofstrasse,
smug in their lives and proud of their wives,
who wheel pretty prams among the trams,
trams that go ringalingaling ... ding-ding
all along the Bahnhofstrasse.

One cannot be too rich in Zurich,
gnot among these gnarly gnomes
who repair, sedately, to stately homes
on the wholly hushed, the manicured hills,
that loom over the low-lit lapping lake.
There was a touch of the obscene in '17
in the amounts of money banks could make,
they could rake it in, inured to the din
of the booming guns across the border.
Switzerland thrives on Europe's disorder.

Unshaven Sheldon, shoes letting in rain,
was attracted to a light and lilting voice
overheard in a tavern, simple and plain,
and shook hands with its owner, James A. Joyce.
JJ was not in the market for seashells,
nor salt cellars, but was generous with his wine,
and frequently invited young Sheldon to dine.
They discussed Hermes Trimegistes
and the likely origin of the Scythians,
the Parthians, Persians, Medes and Midians.

Who is Leopold Bloom? Please tell me, Jim.
Aha, cackled Joyce, you'll hear more of him!
But come here to me, come here a chara,
have you heard of a chap called Tristan Tzara?
O yes, Mr. Joyce (an empty glass, so no longer "Jim")
he's some sort of wild and woolly Rumanian.
Dear God, is that a country or a medical condition?
But he's the artistic equivalent of uranium.
Depart now, said Joyce, you have my permission.

Sheldon had no quarters or even sixteenths,
but slept under an upturned boat on the shore,
there he dined on cabbage and mixed beans
as his salt cellars were not selling well.
Oh, he could feel it in his deep heart's core
that his fortunes were sinking from day to day,
and the prospect of millions seemed far away;
I am not, he was thinking, cut out for trade,
even though my mind is sharp as a blade.

This War is a no-brainer, I need to find
a wife, or a new and exciting theory of life.
A woman, any woman, would be out of her mind
to marry me, so what should I do next?
I must devote my future to words and text!
I need to find a place to stick my pen in,
to bring out hidden hurts, to incite alarm,
honeyed over with words of faithless charm:
I will call on Vladimir Lenin.

Joyce, Lenin and Tristan Tzara (a founder of the Dada movement which gave rise to surrealism) were all seeking refuge from the First World War in Zurich in 1917. The playwright Tom Stoppard pounced on the possibility of their having known one another.

Conservatives in the Zurich city government tried to close down the Odeon Cafe where the Dada movement began (the rent went up) and only last week the citizens voted them down 2 to 1. Apart from the Chagall windows in one of the old city churches -- totally ethereal -- Zurich, artistically speaking, doesn't have much else.