Deirdre Kessler

Etched in the capstone of the
column at top of Kelly Steps
in Hobart, Tasmania:

KELLY STREET
JANUARY 1840
J.K.

Kelly Steps

Footfall makes the first sixteen ring,
echo against the high walls.
And there’s a resonance
with a hollow below, perhaps,
where the original ones sheltered
from a squall, or left a cache
of fishing gear; where lichens still do
their slow compositions in stone,
negotiating with southwind
and salt.

Blocks of sandstone, yellow ochre and grey,
quarried from this cliff, engineered
to three tiers: sixteen wide steps,
then a landing and right-angle turn
to west—Mt. Wellington a surprise each climb,
earlier cloud-shrouded, now not;
then fifteen, landing,
turn back south;
sixteen more.

The River Derwent carved its own deep way,
long before Captain James Kelly pointed,
said, “Steps here,” and his second mate
rounded up a crew of locals,
drove them, paid them badly
in the end.

The language of stone shifts
to meet the quarryman, suits the carver
and the chisel; rock remembers rope
and sweat, grain by grain weeps
for families sundered, whales
slaughtered, until
surface sorrow erodes,
is windsown elsewhere.

The foot finds the worn places,
scuffed with lives
ascending,
descending.

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