“A poem is never finished, it is abandoned,” said the sculptor Jaume Plensa, quoting Paul Valéry on a sunny September morning in New York City, as he watched Echo, his forty-four-foot sculpture of a female head, being dismantled piece by piece.
My husband Jonathan Wells and I are Flatiron residents. We had lived alongside Echo since she arrived in May and, for Jonathan, she had become an object of fascination and reverence. He had been working on a poem about her for months but found himself unable to conclude it. He had refamiliarized himself with the myth of Narcissus and Echo; he had learned all he could about Plensa and the nine-year-old neighbor in Barcelona who had inspired the piece, a child who had taken shape in the statue with the timelessness and serenity of a Buddha. On this, the statue’s last morning, Jonathan recognized the Catalan sculptor standing between the cranes and the crew.
“I always hoped my work would inspire other artists,” Plensa told my husband, as they discussed myth, marble dust, art collectors, and teaching schedules. “Please send me your poem.” After watching Echo come apart, Jonathan knew he had an ending. Here is what he sent to Plensa:
White as x ray bone she rises through
The trees in stone as if she were sublime,
As if she knew what this grace was
And she was only nine, framed
Between her errands and her games.
Her nymph’s body surges underground
Not knowing what this buried love
Beneath her neighbors play Frisbee
On the grass and strangers take her
Photograph. The final sun pours
Into her sealed eyes and mouth as though
She were the saint of radiant stillness
Who says this marble flesh is a prison
Stone yet the mind flies with
The confetti of birds, soars into
The beliefs of summer.
Silence succumbs to air and the blossoms
Sail down, the clocktower’s fretted hands
Notched against her ribs.
Questions flood her blood
And darkness, flee and then she’s gone,
Taken from our vanquished arms but
She still speaks in the autumn leaves,
In the furrowed bark, in the singsong
Of the childrens’ swings.
Jonathan Wells’s collection, Train Dance, will be published by Four Way Books in October.