Anne Collins – What time is it?

Collins LE P&W 1 Nov-Dec 2023

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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume One Nov-Dec 2023

What time is it? –  poem by Anne Collins.

What time is it?

No appointments or schedules,
the day stretches before me like a blank page,
touches a terror swallowed by deep space
light years from the surface of my life.
I have these hours
and yet I believe the scientists
who speak about the illusion of time
in an ever-expanding universe.

In the Victorian era
a master clock was set exactly when
a star crossed the hairline
in the eyepiece of a transit telescope.
When trains became the way of travel
solar time proved risky and inefficient
and clocks were set to Greenwich Meantime
across the regions of England
and the Queen’s colonies.

Those Babylonian units of 60
we call seconds and minutes
grow into hours, days, weeks, months, years.
This counting patterns our movements,
gives us a linear sense of purpose
and the notion of being on time.

But some people have resisted
this international imposition
and still live deeply in plentiful
circular time. They feel no urge to count it,
know the elsewhen,
feel the past merge with the present,
as they walk around a pool of possibilities
in any given circumstance.

My friends have become grandmothers and great-grandmothers.
How can that much time have gone by already?
Answer: the earth turns on its axis
and rotates around the sun.
These cosmic revolutions grow our bodies
from young to old. If we’re lucky
one hundred years, a speck of time.
Would I really want to live forever?
Universal entropy points to a disorderly future.

Time appears to travel faster
for those living at higher altitudes.
Drawn less by gravity their clocks tick more quickly
than the clocks of those who live below.
When trekking at 1500 feet in the Himalayas
it felt rather absurd to ask
“time Kati bajyo?”

The sherpas wore their new wrist watches
to answer this typical tourist’s question.
But what did it really mean to be told
it was twenty-five minutes past ten or a quarter to four
in that landscape of clouds and mountains
that stretched into the seemingly infinite distance.
Were we really later in the day than
the people we’d met in the village thousands of feet below?
The sun shone down on us all.

Physicists say that if you could stay still,
time would pass more quickly
than if you spent your life in motion.
And I think about pilots and flight attendants
moving above the globe at 35,000 feet
feeling a kind of slowness in the journey
at 805 kilometres per hour.
And then the physicists go on to explain
how “nothing”, that is, “empty space”
travels faster than the speed of light.

This language unsettles us.
Our everyday words are left to fend for themselves.

The quantum view sees matter
as complex vibrations. I can accept that I am
a mathematically random event,
a humble chance at life. New cells are born
and die every minute. Humans
like the rest of life on Earth,
evolve from the grit of stardust and return to it.
This is a wondrous, cold fact.

Here I am thinking about all this
as my brain, housed by my body,
works hard to understand this mystery,
to contain this meta-awareness.
It makes me want to jump up,
wash the dishes, sweep the path, make a list.

The sheep on the hill, as far as I know,
never bothers itself with this kind of thought.
Or does it? Some people claim to sense
the thoughts of other animals and plants.
Ichthyologists talk about the cognition of cuttlefish.
A dog waiting for its walk knows it is time.
I too am a scratching animal.
I find those sites of existential torment,
some patch of dry, flakey doubt and I feel
a sense of primitive satisfaction as I pick at it.

In the random drift of sub-atomic particles
with their uncertain probabilities
and the ephemeral agitations of quantum fields
my curiosity drifts towards the void
light years from the surface of my life.

Carlo Rovelli – The Order of Time and Helgo Land
John Gribbin – Nine Musings on Time
Zoe Zadeh – The Tyranny of Time published in Noema, the Berggruen Institute.
Richard Lewis – How Different Cultures Understand Time

© Anne Collins

Anne Collins writes poetry and creative non-fiction. Her most recent book is collection of poetry and prose with Spanish themes titled Listening to the Deep Song (Bright South press, 2022). Her previous poetry collections are How to Belong (2019); The Language of Water (2014), Seasoned with Honey (2008) a 4-poet anthology; and The Season of Chance (2005). Another collection of poetry and prose is titled My Friends, This Landscape (2011).  Anne lives in nipaluna (Hobart) lutruwita (Tasmania). For more information go to

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