The Stairs – Jill Jones

The house is white, that I remember, plain graceful,
and ungainly, the missing colonnade, they say
everything has been replaced, it’s all as if — we’re guessing
about a stuffed penguin, a copy of The Edinburgh Review 1829.
A ghost of paint almost matches, almost a timeline
prepared out of cracks in the evidence —‘Mr Macleay’s
fruit and flora’ — hawkmoths lie still in a drawer,
placed pins into bodies, a name upon a phasmid.
With bad economy money vanished in rows of beetles
butterflies taken from Siberia, Montevideo, Algeria,
as place replaces place, air becomes arcades, the Verge idea
vertiginous as I stare into elliptical space above the saloon
and wonder how the city I’m in disappears from this quiet,
urban grotto, little nook of calm, foxed glass.
Dust dances round the dome to reappear in ghost traces
of electrons, DNA crumbs, cracks in plates, alongside
wunderkammeras search engine full of matter.
I can try to imagine this as a ‘sylvan coup d’oiel’, but a passing car,
bricks, glass, apartments fill with living other than leaves,
and who will be thinking of Alexander Macleay on a bright day
blue autumn flouncing off the harbour this 2012.
If disappearance is a garden
or appearance is weed
if thoughts have presence
who might paint the shroud.
And can you imagine the mundane except through your own
or call the gap rumination, forgetfulness or simply
‘just not trying’ in late morning radiance staining wood
in a city no longer, perhaps never, my own, in my acts of
secret détournement —occupy, remix or fade down my ironies.
But you can never get furniture right, chairs push back time
a feeling felt in the curve, how you gain and lose memory
though memory isn’t losing, it’s redisposing
rather than the present the body does now, and did once
in dressing rooms or kitchens,  an epergne, pewter funnel,
the heavy tray, crystal comport, lotions and smelling salts —
‘severe to her convict servants, the worst mistress
in the colony to them’ —labels on cellar sandstone:
brandy, sauterne, madeira — Thou / god / see’st me.
Such lives above, below, behind, on stairs, have trod
the elegant cantilever that does its own curve into disappear
as did Peter Henderson, butler, footman, a life sentence
for opening a letter in the Edinburgh Post Office
lady’s maid, Martha Handcox, a life sentence for stealing
her London mistress’s jewellery, what crimes of stealing
to land here, the ‘finest house in the colony’, the colony
that performed the most terrible disappearance
the un-named plunder, murdering for vistas, collections,
drudgery, folly amongst the ‘levellers, adulterers, drunkards
and thieves’, Macleays, Macarthurs, Onslows,
Wentworths in rival, each an old-new Sydney name
like ‘some modern Goth of New South Wales’.
Cellared dirt licks shape into stone, it’s not salvage
but joining minerals of our selves and grounds, the once was
jostling the same air, or view, ferried by the hours
once was ‘an umbrageous solitude’, ‘a dance upon the Lawn’
once was a place of Eora nation, still song along water and air
many thousands of years which stories cover / uncover
where fifty million years of marsupial breath still floats
where Blue Triangle butterflies collect their own days.
I am stopped near the base of the stairs. I am told
nothing happened right here, but air hackles
the risers — what we’re always told
nothing happened.
[quotes from sources referenced in Scott Carlin, Elizabeth Bay House: A History & Guide, Historic Houses of NSW, 2000.]