"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison

Finding Your Porpoise

Finding Your Porpoise

Where I’m from, we’re told as children that everyone is born with a porpoise.

It’s weird to lie about something like that.

I mean, I could plainly see the other kids’ porpoises.

Always coasting along, not more than an arm’s length away.

Some distinct, sleek and shiny with little snouts and speckles, or with jagged fins and taut, crescent bodies.

Others more like blobs of chocolate and vanilla pudding, tightly saran-wrapped in some areas but oozing out in others.

I wouldn’t have minded an oozing porpoise. Because then I would have at least had one.

Then I could have been like the other kids, so smug and nonchalant with their very own porpoises.

Eating lunch with their porpoises. Seesawing with their porpoises. Applying for schools with their porpoises. Introducing dates to their porpoises. 

Not appreciating their porpoises. 

I looked everywhere for mine, even places I knew it wouldn’t fit. 

Under beds, in the junk drawers, behind the couch and the curtains. 

I looked for mine in the classroom, in the gym, at the park, between the pews. 

I looked at the lake, on mountaintops and treetops, and at the beach of course.

I looked under the waves and waited to be swept away into the deep only to be rescued by my very own porpoise.

But instead I was spit back onto shore like a shipwreck survivor, in tattered clothes and soggy boots, and no porpoise.

I consulted the stars and crystals and cards. 

Tried potions and pipes and pills.

I asked other people if they knew my porpoise. Teachers, coaches, clerics, sages, complete strangers. 

I listened to their counsel.

But no one really knew. 

I thought maybe I could make a porpoise baby so I could finally have my very own.

But then I was afraid I’d just make a baby with no porpoise and that made me sad.

So I didn’t do that.

I was afraid I was sick or crazy not to have a porpoise.

I was embarrassed.

And I was ashamed.

I figured there was nothing left to do but wait for death without a porpoise so I dug a hole.

And I stitched a cotton shroud. 

And I sat and I waited.

But dying was taking a lot longer than I thought it would. 

I played in the dirt and twigs and leaves to pass the time and I had an idea.

I bundled up globs of earth in the fabric and found some twine to tie it up.

And I dragged it back to town.

I went about my business as folks stared and laughed and snorted at my bundle.

I carried it around until the seams began to tear.

I swapped canvas for the cotton and used rope instead of twine. 

I embroidered it with a beautiful smile and sewed on black marble eyes.

I punched a hole in the top and gave it charcoal spots.

I heaved and hauled it everywhere.

Until one day it became very light.

It began to wriggle and float.

It started clicking and clacking and whistling in the most ridiculous manner, and I began to laugh and others laughed, too.

But some folks didn’t like this.

They were annoyed and even afraid of what I had made.

I didn’t care.

I lived and laughed and went adventuring with my porpoise until the end.

And my tombstone said:

To be born with no porpoise
May seem like a curse.
But to live without one
Is something much worse.

I couldn’t find my porpoise
So I made one instead.
I hope you don’t mind
Now that I’m dead.

What was not lost
Will never be found.
I hope you realize this
Before you’re underground.

Steph Vincent is a lawyer and writer based in the St. Louis area. Vincent writes essays, fiction, and poetry.

Cover photo by Talia Cohen on Unsplash

Death, Wipe that Smile Off Your Face

Death, Wipe that Smile Off Your Face

Unearned Chicago Whiteness

Unearned Chicago Whiteness