Cathedral Steps

We met in front of the cathedral,
on the steps.

The doors were closed
but the steps were open,
and they were free.

It was the best collection of steps of anywhere.

On any given day we’d find a thousand ways
to cross them,
a thousand ways up
and a thousand ways down,

times the thousands of combinations,

where we neither rose nor fell,
nor went straight
but curved and spun,
making diagonals across the crossings,

never reaching either the top or the bottom
of the steps.

We crack-walked, we rat-skidded,
we scampered, we bounced, we
slid like globes of mercury
up and down, and,
we followed a path
which foreclosed to us
the idea that there was any one path.

Our path was a very large number.
An imaginary number.

The steps were so vast you could take any number
away and it would be the same,
or add any number and it would be the same,
and even more incredible
a single cathedral step could be split
by any number of steps in any
number of directions.

The making of our step music got to the point we
might spot it even in somebody who was not one
of us,

who used the steps simply for ascent,
to the doors of the cathedral,
where they’d usually find they were shut,
and then for their descent,
back down to the bottom.

We saw it when we were resting,
the pull at the stranger’s muscles of the steps,
as if invisible fish-hooks were tugging at them,

low up, low down, high up and across,
from the middle, across and down.

And sometimes in a stranger’s walk,
even away from the steps,
we saw a suggestion,
a further refinement of an established route,
or a completely new angle,
and we couldn’t wait to be allowed to go and
try it out.

We all managed to get some practice in.

When I went to the beach I’d race out onto
the rocks.
Unlike most people I preferred the rocks
to the sand.

The rocks weren’t the same as the steps
but my feet had been so trained
they’d find ways over the jags
and through the miniature valleys,
down seams and over pools,
where there was the added hazard of seaweed,
like silk,

and then the moving rocks,
a field of them,
which preceded the beach and tide-line,
snarled with driftwood.

I became lighter and faster at the beach.

And I know there were exercises with
cushions and furniture that were done

and even out in the bush, over the loose
floor of twigs and leaves, between the
roots and trunks and onto stones in the

This was before skateboards came out.
And I lost some of my crew to them.

And some of the others just got thick
and clumsy,
or had new shoes which they didn’t want
to take off,
with thick and clumsy rubber soles.

It was hard to get the right shoes.
It was better sometimes just to take them off,
and run the risk of broken glass and dogshit.

But we were better than that.

We could avoid danger of the smelly or
the painful kind,

and fly-dance,
over the steps in front of the cathedral.