Little Ghosts

I wandered downtown Tampa last week, listening to “100,000 Fireflies” by the Magnetic Fields. There is something strange about having of necessity moved back to the small town which spat me out, only to go visit the first city that felt like home in search of work. I want so badly to be back there in Tampa for good. Or maybe New York. Or maybe San Francisco. Anywhere there are the people that I love. Friends hold your heart in their hands; this is home. But Tampa herself was almost a lover.

Tampa’s breath has changed, rolling over in her sleep– she’s shifting, settling. Cities do this. The art museum is temporarily relocated, the old building demolished. Its repose will be interrupted when the new building is finished, but until then, it’s reclining like a nude on North Howard. The leaf imprints on the concrete before its absent old structure look as though they will flutter away with all the light loose construction debris. I like the look of the construction fences– the green of the woven tarp backing the chain link, the red and yellow of the hardhat signs.

I moved slowly down the streets, footsteps ghost quiet in contrast to the buses roaring down Marion, the business women trotting to lunch on high heels I still don’t understand (click, click), the business men laughing just a little too loudly with a client they want to impress (it’s almost maniacal– big guffaws). I stopped on the drawbridge over the Hillsborough river to listen to the cars buzz and rattle over the grating. The concrete pilings are covered in years of prep school graffiti from rowing competitions.

I wandered over to the University of Tampa campus and the park that joins it. Tampa’s minarets sparked silver in the sun, a relic of an opulence gone. What would Henry B. Plant think of the school that now takes up his old hotel? The moons and domes and brick mean the city. They are interchangeable, like the canals for Venice. The last time I wandered that campus was with my aunt and mother– I opened the picture album of my mind, and I remembered where my aunt stood when she took the photo of me crouching like a pixie at the edge of the “Sticks of Fire” fountain sculpture, water shadows playing over my figure, ribbons of waving light and dark. It was less than a month before I went off to New College. She was so proud of me… she never got to see me graduate. Today the fountain is cracked and empty.

Tampa’s rolled over in her sleep. She’s murmuring a familiar word among a string of other foreign things. I don’t think I understand. She stole the covers, twisted them around herself in the sweaty summer night. I can’t get close to spoon her. I am lying awake, exposed, trying to figure out how we became so distant, what has changed when Tampa’s arms were once my home.

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