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herbsttag

The apartment building I’m living in is a nice, quiet, grad-studenty old pile near the University of Pennsylvania campus. It’s on a tree-lined street, further down which are houses which, if not actually fraternally-affiliated, have at least got frat-like activity going on. When you walk down the street on recycling day, you see blue plastic buckets in front of these houses, filled and overfilled with prodigious quantities of Smirnoff bottles.

My apartment is in the rear of the house, on the ground floor, and so I have a porch all to myself. It faces a yard whose soil, though apparently incapable of growing much other than pebbles, is interrupted by three large trees, one of which has a phone line draping over the branch. Separated from this yard by a chain-link fence is a more prosperous yard, with actual grass, and in a coop off to the side, some chickens. These belong to the UPenn Veterinary Fraternity.

It’s 1:30 on a Saturday morning, and while the people a few houses down don’t have their music blaring so loud that it interrupts sleep, other noises at both ends of the spectrum – whum whum whumms from the bass speakers, the tinkle of empties getting thrown in a garbage can, and girls squawking “Oh my GAWD” – are keeping me awake. Not that it takes much to keep me awake; I used to have insomnia, and now it seems to be back.


I came back to the States with my family around the middle of August, and was amazed by how quickly I re-acclimated. There was very little jetlag, and the usual fascinations – that things could cost so much; that people could be so disgustingly fat; that everyone was speaking English, even if it was a Philadelphia dialect – just weren’t present this time. Everything was more or less back to the way it was two years ago, when I left. Some things had changed, of course – and there’ll be an entry on this later, most likely – but for the most part, it was like I’d never left.


Friends ask me what it’s like to be back, and I reply that it’s not good or bad so much as it is strange.

It’s strange because I’m suddenly an adult. It’s strange because I can’t quite put my finger on the way things have changed here. It’s strange because after high school, most of my closest friends left Philadelphia for college. It’s strange because although I have an apartment and classes and a degree to be working towards, I really don’t feel like i have a life here anymore. It’s strange because Philadelphia isn’t my home now, and because I know that after this year, or however long it takes to get my BA, I will probably never live here again.


The party’s really going, it sounds like. There are intermittent bursts of rain, but it’s a balmy night, and other than a few squeals and oh-my-gods, the partygoers don’t really seem to have any reaction.
It’s heavy rain, summer rain, and it fits well enough: school may have started, and my backyard may be carpeting itself with leaves, but it’s still technically summer, and the party a couple doors down is most definitely a summer party.


Lord, it is time. The summer was too long.
Lay your shadow on the sundials now,
and through the meadow let the winds throng.

Ask the last fruits to ripen on the vine;
give them further two more summer days
to bring about perfection and to raise
the final sweetness in the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now will establish none,
whoever lives alone now will live on long alone,
will waken, read, and write long letters,
wander up and down the barren paths
the parks expose when the leaves are blown.

Rainer Maria Rilke, “Herbsttag”
translated by William Gass

5 Comments

  1. yoshio wrote:

    glad you’re posting again… good talking to you the other day.

    Tuesday, September 21, 2004 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  2. ken wrote:

    “that people could be so disgustingly fat”

    God, that is so true. Is this a common observation had by people who have returned to America from time spent in Asia? I mean, we got fat people over here, too, but when I got off that plane in LAX I couldn’t believe how many fat people I fucking saw. Just sitting there shoving shit in their mouths with no concern for anything. I probably sound like some judgemental prick, but I was total amazed at how many fat people I saw and how goddamn fat they were. Amazing.

    Saturday, September 25, 2004 at 12:01 am | Permalink
  3. Prince Roy wrote:

    sounds like you’re making a textbook readjustment. The ‘how can everyone here be so damn fat’ is ample proof of your healthy progress. People here in India tend to be chunky, too, though not grossly obese as in the US. Main culprit is Indian food, which unlike so many would have you believe, is not all that healthy or heart friendly. Lot’s of deep frying, and enormous amounts of butter and coconut oils. They also have an incredible sweet tooth. I thought American shit was too sweet, but they don’t have anything on the Indian, who add sugar to EVERYTHING.

    Sunday, September 26, 2004 at 3:05 am | Permalink
  4. jennifer wrote:

    you’ve confirmed that i really don’t want to come back for anything. I just don’t know what it is about philadelphia, it will always have a way of either keeping people there too long or letting people disown it without fighting back. The only thing i want from philadelphia is a cheesesteak, but i guess i should lay off those anyway. It seems like it should be home, there should be some nostolgia but all there is an intense sense of dread that i have to come back, because there are things that won’t leave the city behind.

    Monday, September 27, 2004 at 9:18 pm | Permalink
  5. laska wrote:

    //…and will in the alleys back and forth
    restlessly wander as the leaves blow//

    is closer to the original.

    Sunday, October 3, 2004 at 10:17 am | Permalink

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