SLCC's Premiere Art & Literary Magazine

Butterflies Can’t Swim

Joshua Scofield

Butterflies can't swim. They can walk, flutter, jump, backtrack, stutter step, zig-zag, dash, turn, and fly—but they can't swim. It's not that they don't want to—they can't. A butterfly spends the first part of its life as a caterpillar, inching along, slow and steady, up and down a leaf, or a twig, or a piece of the jungle gym, or a finger, or a dog's snout, but never a dog's water bowl. Because a caterpillar can't swim either. And, though I have no way of knowing, I have every way of imagining what's going through a caterpillar's head when it's making itself into a butterfly, and I'd like to think that they choose, in their own minds, what they want to become, and what they want to conquer—the air, or the water. You see, a caterpillar can't swim, but it can't fly either.

I don't know any caterpillars, and I don't know any butterflies, and even if I did I don't think I would be able to get a word in edgewise with them. They're always flapping away or inching along, never stopping to say hello. To talk about their kids, or their day. They're a bunch of self-absorbed little buggers, if you ask me. But I think that if I could get one of them to stop for a minute and ask what they would rather be—a butterfly or a butter swim—, and if they could answer, and if I could hear them whispering out of their tiny little mouths—I think they would tell me that the water was the place where life crawled out of and that the air is the place it was trying to get to, and that the question was stupid and that they had somewhere else to be. (Caterpillars and butterflies aren't just self-absorbed—they're rude.)

And I like to imagine—though, again, I haven't ever asked—that they make their cocoons, and they spin themselves up, and they boil themselves down, and they get to ask themselves that question. Butterfly or butterswim—? Butterfly or butterswim—? And they choose, as I and all people invariably would, to soar, and to be huge, and to master the place above them instead of the place below them, because to soar is to live, and to sink is to die. And we're all in concurrence, I think—us people and our caterpillar friends. Where—oh where—is the choice?