Manfred Kyber - The C. o. E.

The earthworms had convened a congress.

It was a modern congress. Therefore it was not called the Congress of Earthworms but the C.o.E.

The C. o. E. met in the garden at a rather dusty spot. One discussed solely matters of soil culture. The earthworms' horizon does not go further. They crawl on the earth and feed on soil. They are poor, moderate people but they are useful and necessary. The earth would not crop without them. Their work has to be done.

It was evening. Dusk lay on the paths on which the C.o.E. had crawled together.

A long old earthworm had taken presidency. He discussed matters of local nature, the soil conditions of the garden in which one worked. There were pleasing results.

We have already penetrated the earth rather deeply the C.o.E. president said. We have brought many layers of soil to the surface that noone knew about previously. We have fractionized them and broken them up. But the earth appears to be much deeper than we thought. It seems to harbor more than we have unsheathed. We have to go on crawling around everywhere diligently and feed on earth. It is a great task. With this, I close the C.o.E.

The worm curled engagingly.

The C.o.E.'s official part was finished.

One formed casual groups with neighbors and friends and talked about the practice of limb creation. Everyone wanted to become long. In this one viewed progress. New methods for that were always of interest.

The most recent method to become long a young earthworm said, is called curl with a straw. It strenghtens the muscles and stretches the limbs. Look — like this!

It groped for a straw and and demonstrated the new method vigorously and with conviction. In doing so it struck against something. It sensed that it was rough and hairy.

Hey, what on earth is that? It even has hair and it is moving!

Anxiously, it curled away from the straw.

Excuse me, I was so tired. So I sat down on the straw, the something with the hair said.

Who on earth are you? the earthworm asked and cautiously crawled closer again.

I am a caterpillar by profession. I certainly would not have sat down on the straw but I am so very tired. I have such a long way behind me. I always crawled in the dust. Only rarely I found something green. I am a little weakly from childhood. After all, it is really weakening to bend one's back with every step. Now I can't go on. I am too tired. Tired to death.

The caterpillar was quite dusty and exhausted. Its leg stumps trembled.

The whole C.o.E. approached compassionately.

You have to fortify yourself a little, an earthworm said friendly. you have to have some soil.

No thank you, the caterpillar said, I am too tired to eat. Anyway, I'm feeling so strange. I don't want to crawl on the earth any longer.

I do ask you, the C.o.E. president said. Such is life that one crawls on the earth and eats soil. If one cannot do that anymore, one dies. But one shall live and become really long. I can recommend several methods. It is macrobiotics.

I believe that one does not die, the caterpillar said. When one is too tired and can no longer crawl on the earth, one pupates and becomes a colorful butterfly. One flies in the sunlight and hears the bellflowers ringing. I just don't know how to do it. I am also much too tired to think about it.

The earthworms curled in a muddle, nervously and helplessly.

Flying? — Sunlight? — What does that mean? — I don't believe it! — Maybe, you're sick?

You are using such curious foreign words, the C.o.E. president said. You're just not feeling well!

The caterpillar no longer answered. It was too tired. Tired to death. It clinged to the straw.

Then it became dark around it.

But fine threads spun from it and spun a cocoon around the body that was dusty and tired to death.

That is a really terrible disease, the earthworms said.

It is a phenomenon, the C.o.E. president said. We will watch it.

Some experts nodded approvingly with the head limbs.

Weeks went by. The C.o.E. president and the experts crawled to the phenomenon daily and palpated it. The phenomenon looked white. It was quite cocooned and lay on the motionless floor.

Finally, in the early morning, the cocooned thing moved. A small, colorful butterfly emerged and looked around in amazement. It held the wings folded up and did not know what to do with it. For it had forgotten what it had believed and hoped for as a caterpillar — and how tired it had been, tired to death…

But the wings grew in the sunlight. They became strong and colorful.

Then the butterfly spread its wings and flew high above the earth, into the sunlight.

The bellyflowers rang.

Below in the dust, the C.o.E. convened.

One had found the empty skin, and all experts had crawled together.

It is just a cloak, the first expert said disappointed.

Only the disease has remained, the second expert said.

The cloak simply is the disease, the third expert said.

High above their blind heads, the butterfly fluttered in the blue, sunny air.

Now it is completely dead, the earthworms said.

Resurrexit! thousands of voices were singing in the light.


From: Das Manfred Kyber Buch, Rowohlt, December 1985
Translation: Ulrich Messerle, March 2015
Published on:

Text version: 2015-03-11 (a)