The Tortoise and the Scorpion, David Rakoff


The scorpion was hamstrung, his tail all a-quiver.

Just how would he manage to get 'cross the river?

"Oh, the water's so deep," he observed with a sigh,

which pricked at the ears of the tortoise nearby.

"Well, why don't you swim," asked the slow-moving fellow,

"unless you're afraid. I mean, what are you, yellow?"

"It isn't a matter of fear or of whim," said the scorpion,

"but that I don't know how to swim."

"Ah, forgive me. I didn't mean to be glib when I said that. I figured you were an amphibian."

"No offense taken," the scorpion replied, "but how about you help me to reach the far side?

You swim like a dream, and you have what I lack.

What say you take me across on your back?"

"I'm really not sure that's the best thing to do," said the tortoise, "now that I see that it's you.

You have a less than ideal reputation preceding.

There's talk of your victims all poisoned and bleeding.

You're the scorpion, and how can I say this, but, well,

I just don't feel safe with you riding my shell."

The scorpion replied, "What would killing you prove?

We'd both drown.

So tell me, how would that behoove

me to basically die at my very own hand,

when all I desire is to be on dry land?"

The tortoise considered the scorpion's defense.

When he gave it some thought, it made perfect sense.

The niggling voice in his mind, he ignored,

and he swam to the bank and called out, "Climb aboard."

But just a few moments from when they set sail,

the scorpion lashed out with his venomous tail.

The tortoise too late understood that he'd blundered

when he felt his flesh stabbed and his carapace sundered.

As he fought for his life, he said, "Tell me why you have done this? For now we will surely both die!"

"I don't know," cried the scorpion.

"You never should trust

a creature like me, because poison I must.

I'd claim some remorse or at least some compunction,

but I just can't help it. My form is my function.

You thought I'd behaved like my cousin the crab,

but unlike him it is but my nature to stab."

The tortoise expired with one final quiver,

and then both of them sank swallowed up by the river.

The tortoise was wrong to ignore all his doubts,

because in the end, friends, our natures will out.

So what can we learn from their watery ends?

Is there some lesson on how to be friends?

I think what it means is that central to living a life that is good is a life that's forgiving.

We are creatures of contact. Regardless of whether we kiss or we wound, still we must come together.

Though it may spell destruction, we still ask for more,

since it beats staying dry but so lonely on shore.

So we make ourselves open while knowing full well

it's essentially saying, please, come pierce my shell.

* Turtles swim. Tortoises don't.

#Thoughts

What happens when people open their hearts? They get better. - Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood