The foreigner on the bus, a stranger in a very strange land, is separated from the lady on the trolley by more than just a pane of glass and the few feet between them. They're whole worlds apart, literally - East and West. They're divided by different political, social and economic systems, by mutual suspicions and bristling weapons systems. They speak different languages, and each is the product of different histories. They gaze at each other for a moment over a gulf that can never be bridged Š except by one, beatific smile.
And everything is changed. Even now, so many years later, her smile still lights up that long, weary day, and makes the noisy traffic sound like Gershwin. The dust drops off the classical ochre buildings in the background, and their Georgian lines return. The entire, elegant old city that Peter the Great dreamed, so long but a faint shadow covered by neglect, comes to life.
Thank You, the American on the bus mouths, then remembers: Spa-si-bo.
And he thinks: Leningrad, I love you. Or rather the St. Petersburg it once was. And he has this impossible thought: that one day it might be St. Petersburg again. If only time were kind and the light did not failŠ.
Then the streetcar has passed. But the sight of her remains. It is still there after all these years, rising of its own accord. She has not aged a bit. I hope she's all right.
It happens that way sometimes. It takes only a moment.
It is not a unique sensation. I realized as much when, years later, I read Richard Wilbur's brief poem, or maybe sighting, called "Transit":
A woman I have never seen before
Steps from the darkness of her town-house door
At just that crux of time when she is made
So beautiful that she or time must fade.
. . . the staggered sun
Forgets, in his confusion, how to run . . .
Still, nothing changes as her perfect feet
Click down the walk that issues in the street,
Leaving the stations of her body there
As a whip maps the countries of the air.
It happens. Just for one brief moment. And for ever. Love is fleeting, they say. And yet it tarries.
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