By Susan Harris
In this endless winter, when spring seems distant as the sun, we turn to Mario Rigoni Stern's luminous "Spring," beautifully translated by Gregory Conti, from our March 2007 issue. Rigoni Stern opens with his childhood memories of winter's end in the Italian mountains—"in the month of March, when the thaw opened up the passes"—and the keen anticipation of spring; with his grandfather he writes a postcard: "To the Head of the Black Swifts | Alexandria, Egypt, Africa: Winter is over and there's no more snow. The season is good and as always we have the roof and the attic for you. Mario and Grandpa Toni." (The swifts respond with their own postcard: "We'll arrive on the usual date. Arrivederci.") Throughout, the link between man and nature is explicit: after their return, the darting, shrieking swifts play the children's favorite game ("Grandpa, do you think they learned it from us?" "No, we learned it from them"), and the rhythms of the village are inextricably linked to the seasons. But spring also holds less idyllic associations for Stern. As in all of his writing, his wartime memories lurk beneath the surface: "This joyous month always marked the end of my tragic experiences of war. . . . April was always the month that I started on my way back home." In this charged season, Rigoni Stern returns to his village as an adult, walking through the cemetery in "sweet melancholy," awash in the past: "It was spring, you lived it and that was that."
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