Light, “Tonight, I am the James Webb Telescope”

[Poem composed for the event “Parole in folle”]

The James Webb Telescope can capture light from the beginning of time,
most of the galaxies it holds have already died.
Tonight, I unfold the mirror of my arms
And memory is a trickster,
The sky, a gaping mouth
And all my friends are made of stardust.

We are 12 years old,
my best friend and I
clutch onto the ground
Watch the clouds sway,
Drunk off peach schnapps and apple sours,
He has not yet tried to catch a train with his chest,
I have not yet tried to swallow his dying
On the rocks,
Gasping for breath.

Instead, I am 1.5 million kilometers away
Floating in the stillness of space
Unfolding through 344 single point failures –
Existing against all odds
And too far to be repaired –
I origami my joints into a big bang,
an epitaph to a universe
that doesn’t realise it’s dying

I’m dreaming of her again,
at her 18th birthday
sneaking kisses in corners, beneath a yearning sky –
Hiding from pursuing cake and candles
she tells me the stars have never looked so bright
I am not yet at her memorial
packing my tears into the back of my throat,
Betraying my grief with a trembling voice.
I have not yet disappeared into the fold of my sheets
Grasping at cascading funerals
and dominoing caskets
settling in the earth,
And at the hands of lovers
Adept at taking their own lives,

tonight, it is a supermoon,

The stars hum of new beginnings
And we must get dressed.
Unsink ourselves from the depression in our beds,
wade through the vast expanse of grief,
It took 26 years to build the telescope –
And what foresight,
To believe in a technology that did not yet exist
And maybe it is faith that keeps this universe in place
And our dreams in orbit.

My oldest friend and I
sink into the softness of her scars –
She tells me her hopes for the future
And how these keep
Her heart beating and her wrists intact
I have not yet seen her lifeless
And the James Webb telescope is not a prophet
And tonight we do not die

there is laughter coming through the walls,
friends return calls
We sing to the moon
And all our graves are empty
And sparkling
And all our far away friends
Are brought home by the night.

The James Webb Telescope cannot see beyond the light –
We are 12 and we are 18 and we are here and we are now,
And we have not yet seen the children we will have,
Or all the ways we will begin or end or become
But we ride faith into the dark
And the horizon bends to rise behind us
And the telescope is light to our children
And tonight, we are all gathered at the beginning of time
And we are a hope
To those that are not yet alive.


Courtesy of the author

Link to the Italian translation

Xabiso Vili

South African Xabiso Vili, 2022 Poetry Slam World Champion, is a multi-awarded artist who has perfomed all over the world.

Among South Africa’s top contemporary poets, he has been awarded as spoken word artist, writer, producer, digital strategist and new media artist (he works on augmented and virtual reality projects).

He believes poetry to be a tool for healing – for both the author and the reader/listener and also an instrument to positively influence one’s community, promoting inclusion and the sharing of words in innovative spaces.

His poetry explores the inner world to catch the thin threads connecting it to the outer world. Often with the help of digital audiovisual, he explores the relationship between ancestral past, present and future.

In October 2023 he performed for the first time in Italy at the event “Parole in folle” in Padova and Bologna with the poem above, “Nathi’s Eulogy” and “Forget how to Die“.

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