Vernacular of the Understorey

Jane Downing
Nana’s timber house walked above
the Queensland heat
balancing on stilts like a circus act
only then we called them stumps
in the vernacular of the architecture
this side of the bumpety-bump
of the Hornibrook Highway bridge
once we’d paid the toll

My education in the underneath – 
cool darkness between concrete
washtub and Granddad’s Holden
colour of the chokos on the vine
 – was secret from the grownups
inhabiting high-set rooms 
off an esophageally long corridor 
up steep stairs front and back

Wooden battens screened us
whale’s baleen filtering the adult talk 
dropped through open windows
landing like the buzz of dying flies
as generations of mothers whipped
sugar into cream to make it peak
setting the last off the boat to deseed
the passionfruit, a rite of place

The stumps protected the house
from heat and termites and us pests
till we grew up and went up 
and quietened down
knowing when the years knocked
and bruised we had to remember
the stories underneath
the darkness the laughing the living the loving

the days without translation

Jane Downing’s poetry has appeared in journals around Australia including Meanjin, Cordite, Rabbit, Canberra Times, Bluepepper, Not Very Quiet, Social Alternatives, Best Australian Poems (2004 & 2015) and previously in Burrow. Her collection, ‘When Figs Fly’ (Close-Up Books) was published in 2019. She can be found at



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