TWICE A YEAR the town mows the side of the road and cuts back all the sumac and grass so I can see my neighbors’ fabric house. The house I live in, with its vinyl siding and tarpaper roof, sits in the middle of a gently-sloping clearing. My neighbors live in a suspension of tarps and patterned bedsheets, usually tucked back behind the sumac and the tall grass. I see my neighbors come and go, leaving on foot, wheeling a bicycle, returning on foot with the bicycle’s paniers and baskets stuffed with supplies. My house is yoked to its address on Vine Street in Athens, Georgia. My neighbors live on Vine Street, too. 

My neighbors and I both live here, we all come and go, but the house my neighbors live in doesn’t have an address and isn’t always visible to me. Usually the fabric house has a tall grass and tangled sumac shield around it with a beaten single-track walkway bending back behind the leafing wall. Usually when a storm comes in, I see the rain hit the sumac leaves, not the fabric walls. I see the wind flatten the grass, not the structure my neighbors live inside. 

The exterior of the structure hides the life of the structure, which is the part of the structure that is most impacted but least exposed by the town’s removal of the plant matter. The outside wall was the foliage and now it’s the fabric, but the inside wall (also fabric) faces inward into the life of the home. After the town cut back all the plant growth, I wonder if the fabric walls feel like skin after a shirt’s been torn away. Goosefleshed and vulnerable as new growth.

I wonder if the fabric walls feel like skin after a shirt’s been torn away. Goosefleshed and vulnerable as new growth.

Out over the ocean, clouds build up their towns of storm. In the absence of jurisdiction, the weather fills the atmosphere with self-structuring: local domes, municipal spires, and nation-big towers mounting miles wide and high. Cloud towns regenerate constantly. A nimbus whiff dissipates and repurposes as a lick of cumulus swells outward toward a slow eruption. In its silent self-undoing the tower clears sky space for the thousand surging shapes upcoming. Cloud towns collapse onto burgeoning cloud towns. Towns grow up over former towns. Towns replace towns. Towns feed towns in an endless procedure of growth.

This town grows too but won’t shed itself like clouds. The town doesn’t care about the town to come and the town that comes after. The town wants to expand itself but never exceed itself. My neighbors’ house is excessive. My neighbors exceed the town and its sense of itself, straining the boundaries with the house they live in and the fact that they live there back behind the sumac wall. This house is an out-growth. It proliferates beyond the verge of the town, under the canopy of sumac and behind the screen of tall grass. The fabric house is the shape of the town to come that the town battles back. 

The ability to stop growth has no impact on growing. The sumac will never stop growing, not even the grass. The sumac roots send up shoots through the aerated tumult of loam. The grass seeds in every breeze. Even hibernation has nothing to do with the stoppage of growth when you think about it. The sumac proliferates. The grass replaces itself to ensure its continuance. The blade is not the concern. Only growth matters. The world is alive due to pointless profusion. Growing and growing and growing.

The grass replaces itself to ensure its continuance. The blade is not the concern. Only growth matters.

Out over the ocean, the titanic evolution of storm-growth reforms into more manageable shapes as the rain heads our way. The cloud towns mimic the towns they want to invade in their settling and their re-shape. Shapes that speak to the size of our town instead of the fantastic architecture of unchecked growing the clouds bethink themselves when alone. Coastal temperature rills moisture into wind-carded streetways dense and fibrous as wool and the clouds line up in avenues as they prepare to cover the land.

A wind whips up a corner of the wall of my neighbors’ fabric house, exposing a wooden dresser and a bench-style car seat as clearly as any living room is exposed when the curtains aren’t drawn. 

The meaning of growth in cloud town is in its storm becoming. In the wind before the mounting storm, the trees swing their heads like shaggy dogs, shimmering hides and tossing necks. I feel the vacuum in the air as the cloud inhales. I feel the rush of rain as the storm breathes out. 

The town cuts back the growth from the edge of the road to the door of the fabric house but it doesn’t stop anything.

My neighbors reconfigure the fabric house to accommodate the weather. Before the storm, the walls change, contracting toward the center to become more water-tight. The ability to grow protects the ability to grow.

The cloud town seethes up through the rapidly chilling air to delgue us. 

The town buttons up, suspends for a moment its endless battles.

Watching as I am from my in-town house I see only the rain and the way the storm makes everything into the world of the rain.

Eventually the street shines with loose garbage and the leaves shine with good health.

After the rain, my neighbors stake a dowel into the ground in front of the fabric house. The wide-brimmed hat balanced on top drips slowly drying in the absence of clouds. It looks like a decoy–something for the town to take aim at. It looks like a flag. It looks like we’re still here. It looks like we’re growing.

In the absence of clouds the clouds start to build.

EMMA CATHERINE PERRY is a poet and essayist from Newfields, New Hampshire. She has a BA from Kenyon College, an MFA from Cornell University, and she is working on her PhD at the University of Georgia. Her work has appeared in Third Coast, Nashville Review, Shenandoah Review, and other venues. She currently lives in Athens, Georgia. 

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