This essay first appeared in Rosebud, and was cited in The Best American Essays 2002.

The passage from Rilke is translated by Stephen Mitchell and appears in The Selected Poems of Rainier Maria Rilke. German-speaking friends tell me that Mitchell inserted an extra line in the passage that appears below.

October's Rain

by Tyler C. Gore

Yet how much room for memory there is
In the loose girdle of soft rain.

— Hart Crane

Between the drowsy, erotic months of summer (when the long days pass us by too quickly, like a chain of broken promises) and the sterile gloom of winter (when it seems that darkness and cold will never leave the world again), lies October, the loveliest month in all the pages of the calendar.

We speak of Autumn as if it were a proper season but Autumn is only a short passage between the seasons, a brief and melancholy interlude that spans a few scant weeks in October, lovely October, when the air is crisp with the sharp, sad smell of woodsmoke and decaying leaves. That earthy, sepia smell, is to me the smell of nostalgia, because Autumn is not so much experienced as remembered. Every Autumn is every other Autumn, winding down the staircase of my years, so that I can no longer remember whether it was last week or last year that I spent that wonderfully sad, rainy Saturday in October, walking around the city with a broken umbrella.

photo of man with umbrella walking through rainy NYC street

photo: Tyler Gore

It was windy and rainy, that drizzly, cold rain which seems to fall sideways rather than down, and threatens to last for days — a terrible day to be out, but I was lonely in my cramped little apartment, where nothing ever happens, and I wanted to go out into the wet world.

The instant I stepped outside, I was ambushed by a blast of windy rain, the tails of my overcoat whipping out behind me like a fluttering cape. I struggled with the spring mechanism on my umbrella, and it finally popped open; but the wind caught it at once and popped it inside out, so that I was now holding a useless object resembling either a very small broom or a very large exclamation point. With some effort I managed to make it look more like an umbrella, but several metal spokes now protruded from the ripped canvas like menacing, skeletal fingers.

I leaned into the wind and began to walk with great determination, as if I had somewhere to go. Wet candy wrappers and plastic bags hurled past me, eager to flee the city, and the slender, bare branches of New York City trees pitched violently in the wind, reminding me of my umbrella, which was not really much of an umbrella any more, just some steel spokes with a bit of black material hanging between. I was reminded then, of that line in a Yeats' poem, the one where he says

An agéd man is but a paltry thing
A tattered coat upon a stick

and just as I thought of it, a tiny old man stumbled past me, dragged along by his enormous umbrella, which he clutched desperately as the wind pulled him down the street like a sailboat. That poor old man, I thought, he'll be swept away like the candy wrappers and newspapers, and no one will ever know what happened to him.

And then I thought: someday, I too, will be old, and my wife of many years will sit in vain in our dingy apartment, waiting for my return, and the cup of tea she has made for me will grow cold as she sits waiting, waiting by a drafty window in October for her husband, who loved poetry, and used to read her those poignant lines from Rilke's "Autumn Day,"—

Whoever has no home now, will never have one
Whoever is alone will stay alone,
will sit, read, write long letters through the evening
and wander on the boulevards, up and down,
restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.

Yes, that's sad, I thought. The old man is sad, and I'm sad, too, a sad figure in a soggy overcoat with a sad umbrella which is really just a metaphor for my sadness. Over and over again I ran this sad and useless train of thoughts through my sad old head, until I became bored with it. The word sad, however, reminded me of my roommate in college many years ago, who liked beer and hated Ronald Reagan with equal measures of passion, and who (I now recalled) showed up at the dorm cafeteria one Saturday morning in October wearing black eyeliner, and when we asked him why, he replied, Because I'm sad today.