after Natalia Ginzburg’s essay “Ritratto d’un amico”
He died in Turin in the summer. In summer,
Turin feels as large and bare
and resonant as an empty square.
Sky rinsed with milk, clear but not luminous.
A river that’s wide and flat as any highway
but lends no cool, no moisture to the air.
None of his friends were there.
He chose, for his death, a day
(the 27th) like any other
in that torrid August. He chose a room
(346) in an anonymous hotel,
and packets (12) of sleeping powder
dissolved in a glass of water.
He wanted to die, there in his own city,
like a stranger.
…………………………Ten years before,
late one spring, early in the war,
he’d visit his friends Natalia and Leone
bearing fresh cherries.
They’d see him, from their window,
appear at the end of their street, striding their way
to talk about a book,
or the appalling news of the day,
chewing the fruit and, with a sidelong look,
firing each pit against the pitted wall.
He liked the early cherries, the small
and watery ones—he said they had the “sapore
di cielo.” He’d pull them one at a time
from the pocket of his coat—
a gesture that seemed lavish and miserly at once—
to give his friends a chance
to taste them too. For the rest of her life, Natalia wrote,
whenever she ate an early cherry
she’d think of Cesare
and of the fall, that spring, of France.
Numbers need no translation:
346, 12, 27.
As for “sapore di cielo,”
some render it as taste of heaven—
it’s easy to see why.
But have you eaten early cherries lately?
They taste, to me, like sky.