The first time I heard Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess
I was in band practice at Lawrence High School. Our stands
Held the dog-earred parts—Horn 1 & 2, and Solo Horn
Which George Gellis got to play so soulfully
That Sue Meyer, Jane Furchgott, and I hated to add
Our uncertain sound. Some days I was in love with Jane
Who was angelicly pretty but had an acne problem.
And Sue was my friend, the older sister I’d gladly have traded
My real sister for. The first time I heard that melody-Glide
like a river of silk out of George Gellis’s horn
I couldn’t understand how it had been given to an arrogant senior,
Who either despised or simply ignored me, to say
The saddest, most beautiful thing that had ever been said.
How could he know it, or translate it off the page?
And I never envied anything more than to play that melody
With that sound as if George had been sheathed in golden armor
And I, with a few bars of accompaniment and lots of rests,
Was his page, two chairs—and several miles—away.
Music aside, I wanted a sorrow that mournful
For my own. And two years later, when Sue
Went off to college and died freshman year
Falling through the ice at a school camp in northern Michigan
While walking across the lake at night with her boyfriend,
I would sit at the piano and swoon out that Pavane.
Always it brought her back to me, and I count up my life
Since I was seventeen, the age she died,
As though I could answer her last letter to me again.
She came to my room once, to talk to me about my crush on Jane,
As though she might have had a crush on me. Unreasonable,
But what if I’d persisted? Would she have been walking with
So late that icy night? Out flow the bars of the Pavane,
George Gellis’s one reason for being in the world.
She must be a young favorite there in the world of the dead—
So level-headed, yet idealistic. Sue, I’d write to her,
Answering the card with the Japanese print of men in the snow
I keep inside New Directions 16, a volume she inscribed to me,
I think of you whenever I hear the Ravel piece, and will forever,
As though it marks your grave (wherever in Michigan that is).
If Jane’s still alive, and if she still thinks of you,
That would make two of us who remember the day
When just once, without rehearsing it, on a dull afternoon,
As though he wanted to hear George Gellis play again
Before he graduated, knowing he’d only have the three of us
Left in the horn section next year, Mr. Jones passed out
The band version of Ravel’s Pavane, and George
(A musician who, as far as I know, had no feelings)
Filled the Lawrence High School auditorium with somber beauty,
And with Jane and me, you put your lips to your horn
And blew the spirit of your life into that music.