I’ve been dreaming of whales. Orcas, in water so clear and blue it makes me yearn
for something I can’t place. In the dream, I’m in a kayak on the clear blue water, no paddle, two orcas
swimming around and beneath me. The sky is wide and cloudless and I’m unaware of my body.
The orcas’ surfaces are glossy. I’m not afraid, since I don’t call them killer whales. Words matter
that way. The name orca comes from the Latin, Orcinus orca, where Orcinus translates to Kingdom
of the Dead. My cousin died last January. When she died I stopped eating and ran into the ocean,
let the cold swallow my breath. Then I dunked my head underwater and let out a wail
and my tears mixed with salt and I swallowed them. When I surfaced for air, I saw a dolphin
jumping out from a wave about fifty feet in front of me. I like to err on the side of
these things don’t just happen. G’s husband died one month ago today. I googled it,
because I hadn’t heard from her in a while, found his obituary and felt pain. I googled
G’s husband’s obituary while sitting on my couch, eating raspberry sorbet, watching Love Island.
He was a writer and a fisherman, he loved traveling and he loved my friend. I met him once
and now he’s dead. And my cousin is dead. She’s not in North Carolina anymore and I can’t stop
writing about her. I can’t stop writing about oranges because they’re not just oranges, they’re bright,
round bodies and maybe I’ll change someone’s mind who hadn’t thought of it that way and maybe
if I keep peeling and peeling things open on the page, nothing will die anymore and nothing will end.
I googled orcas too. I learned they can be found in any ocean across the world. I learned that in the Pacific
Northwest, there’s a Native legend that believes when a person drowns, orcas will carry the body
into the deep ocean and transform it into one of their own. I learned that drown can mean both to perish
by submersion in water and to rise above like a flood. Months ago, I ate seafood pasta at the Tasty Crab
in Poughkeepsie, New York during a snowstorm, held G’s hand across the table. She told me
her husband was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and we both took a long swallow
of Chardonnay from our plastic cups. I didn’t tell her I’m so sorry or I hate cancer or that my grief
is all brine and seaweed. I asked her to tell me about him and she smiled. Well, she rolled
her eyes, I found him changing a lightbulb on a ladder the other day. If cancer doesn’t kill him,
I might, and we laughed hard for a minute. I’m starting to think being alive is laughing hard for a minute
in the midst of something else. G asked me where I go to feel close to my cousin and I told her I go
to the ocean. I said she comes to me sometimes too. Because love still goes both ways. You can’t chase
after orcas, but if they come to you, that has to mean something, doesn’t it?
Jessica Cordes (she/her) is 23 years old. She grew up in Newburgh, New York, and is currently living in Tuscaloosa, AL, as she is pursuing her MFA at the University of Alabama. She is the poetry editor at New York Quarterly magazine.