Does light carry images? | Dani Cruciani

I invented the James Webb telescope, so you can imagine my surprise when I learned that NASA built it without me. It’s true! In seventh grade I finally realized what lightyears were. And I asked Mr. Raubb, if I could figure out a way to travel 65 million lightyears away, if I could figure out a way to see the light that traveled that far, then surely I could see the dinosaurs? And he said, “I mean, yeah, maybe.” 

The Titan Prometheus shared fire with humans, breathing life into us. The Titans, like the Gods, are bigger than humans. They also live forever. Which sounds great, unless you’re Prometheus. Did you hear? Zeus bound him to a rock and ordered an eagle to eat his liver every day. Yeah, it grows back every night because he’s immortal. It’s his punishment for sharing fire with humans. Apparently that was not the right thing to do. 

Still, I’m a little jealous. I’d give anything to be immortal. 

In their backyard, on a stick, overgrown and crawling onto the neighbor’s fence, is a plant that my Nonno won’t tell me the name of. It’s a bean; it’s not a squash. It’s very long, and green, and thin. It’s bent like a bendy straw, the vines are twirly. “What kind of plant is this?” I speak to him slowly, clearly. He doesn’t know the name of it in English. Maybe because it’s something that existed to him before he moved to America. The past persists in this way. 

“Look at a photo that was scanned into a digital image and then enlarge the image so that all you can see is one pixel… To see an actual image you need a lens. A lens redirects the light so that it forms an image. Each photon carries a bit of the image.” 

According to the photo albums in the basement, Nonna is young and has long hair, and owns outfits that she is excited to wear. This is the girl I wrote a book about in third grade. I wonder why I’ve never met her before. “When did you get married?” On my twentieth birthday, she kisses me like a baby. Duci mia! On the cheek, wiping off any lipstick that stays behind. She gifts me special pearl earrings. She gave me her sixteenth birthday ring. That girl I know. Her photograph is framed in our hallway at home. Nonna at sixteen, mom informs me, looks a lot like Nonna today, I see. 


Turns out construction for the James Webb telescope began in 2004, when I was three years old. Let’s just chalk it up to great minds thinking alike. 

Prometheus, a mascot for the pursuit of knowledge and a warning of the consequences. Careful, now, you don’t want to get chained to a rock. Humans only get one liver, by the way. Unlike Prometheus. 

NASA releases a sneak peek of the first photo taken by the James Webb telescope. “This will change the history of the world forever, time and space as we know it will collapse, things will never EVER be the same!” This is what I feel the articles say, but we all know change feels like nothing until we notice it a little later on, when we look back. For now, I’ll look at this photo. But I’ll notice a distinct lack of dinosaurs. 

The photo albums were stacked next to the crystal bowl on the display case. There were of no interest to my cousin, who insisted on climbing up the shelves the now line the walls, as babies do. Her toys are scattered across what I knew to be the living room floor, to her, a corner in the basement. It’s strange to be tall in a space where I picture myself as a child. Before the basement turned into a storage room. 

This boat has been rebuilt with completely new pieces, is it the same boat as before? Is Prometheus growing a new liver every night, or the same one as before? I don’t care, really, I just worry about what has been lost. 

I can tell you about before. I can see it clear as day. Two couches, a glass coffee table that is always at risk of being broken by the boys. The support column a few feet away from the door. At one time I drew on it in pencil, a smiley face. It’s never been erased. One day my new cousin will see it, and maybe even think about it. 


In my opinion, fire is warm and nice to be around. I think Prometheus wanted to share it to show humans what it’s like because something special exists in fire. Can you see it? Can you tell me what it is? 

Later that day, flipping through the photos, I liked the sound of the plastic and I liked tapping on them. “Who is that, Nonna?” She told me their names, their jobs. Their family lived down the street. He got surgery on his tailbone. This person is dead, and so is that one. 

I listened to Nonna and the photos. The people sat around a table, they shared a meal. When one of them told everyone to pose for a picture, they all turned and looked at the camera, not at me. 

“Eventually you can’t form an image because there are so few photons, you are overwhelmed by stray photons from other sources or from noise in the camera electronics.” 

Ancient Greeks believed the liver housed our human emotions. I wonder what was in Prometheus’ liver. 

I think I already exist in a photo album, that this moment is already traveling at lightspeed. I know that this instant is moving, looking for something new, solid to bounce off. Space sounds lonely but I think the dinosaurs will be there to keep it company. 

When the telescope unfolds, it is roughly the size of a tennis court, bigger than you would think. I keep thinking dinosaurs were taller than buildings, bigger than rollercoasters. Blue whales are the biggest animal to ever live, which is why they are my second favorite animal. For my birthday, my friend adopted a blue whale in my name, the way people buy stars. It’s silly, but I have the picture that was sent with the “adoption” papers taped above my desk. A tail poking out of the water right before the entire body disappears from our eyes. A small moment in time stuck on my wall, a whale hiding in plain sight.

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