"A Villanelle for Jodie Foster"
by Julia Koets
In Contact, you wait for sound. Radio
static in deep space keeps you awake
long into the night. How small this globe,
Ellie Arroway thinks. Miniscule, close
to insignificant. It’ll likely take
lifetimes to hear the farthest star, radio
frequencies scientists debate. History’s slow,
the way some satellites in space
appear to stand still, orbiting the globe.
Small moves, small moves, your father’s canto.
They should’ve sent a poet, you say,
witness to another galaxy. Without radio
proof, no one believes what you saw. No
future, they say, is quite so opaque.
When you come out at the Golden Globes,
your silver dress glittering, all the stars aglow
in the audience, you speak about privacy,
but also wish, in your own brave voice, a radio
wave, to be not so very lonely on this globe.
I wrote "A Villanelle for Jodie Foster" after watching Jodie Foster's 2013 Golden Globe acceptance speech when she came out publicly for the first time. I remembered watching the science fiction film Contact in the late 90s, in which Foster plays Ellie Arroway, a scientist who's fascinated with radio emissions from outer space, so I rewatched the film, and started thinking about her Golden Globes speech alongside her role in Contact. I was thinking a lot about time and privacy in relationship to queerness at the time. Compared to some of my friends, I came out kind of late. I didn't come out to my family and friends until my late twenties, and I've often thought about the reasons I didn't come out sooner. I questioned whether I longed for a certain kind of privacy (no one has to plan conversations with each of their family members and friends to tell them that they're straight), or whether I'd internalized homophobia. I was also in the midst of different questions. I'd loved someone in secret, and intimacy and secrecy seemed so closely related during those years. After losing that love, I was obsessed with writing villanelles, a form that, in some ways, highlights something central to loss: when we lose someone, that loss continues to echo. In Contact, Foster's character hears a repeated sequence of numbers, and writing a villanelle is kind of like that—you listen for the echo. You listen for the loss.
Julia Koets is the winner of the 2017 Red Hen Press Nonfiction Book Award for The Rib Joint: A Memoir in Essays. Her first poetry collection, Hold Like Owls, won the 2011 South Carolina Poetry Book Prize, and her second, Pine, won the 2019 Michael Waters Poetry Prize and is forthcoming April 2021. Koets’s essays and poems have recently appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Indiana Review, The Los Angeles Review, and Portland Review. She has an MFA in creative writing from the University of South Carolina and a PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Cincinnati. Koets is an assistant professor of creative nonfiction at the University of South Florida.