Julia and the Time Machine

Barbara Hardy

She pushes back her hair behind her ears
As I have seen her do over the years
Staring beyond me with a slaty gaze
While she talks about an experiment
On the child’s sense of times and distances.

Piaget says space is a still of time
And time’s the name we give to moving space
Julia has designed a time machine
Using a beach buggy and a forklift truck
Green and red matchbox cars to run a race.

Handles and rods and cogs and strings engage
To start and stop the toys at different times
To push and pull the toys at different speeds
While children grouped according to their age
Take in the permutations of the game.

She questions them about pace and distance
The answers are not what you might expect
The answers differ from the ones we’d give
Taking it all in with a rapid glance
If we were tested by that time machine.

After she hurtled out of her first space
At more than the anticipated speed
I measured time and space on her behalf
Clocks ticked to mark her sleep and her waking
Maps were drawn round the contours of her need.

As she began to divide day from night
Spelling through the hard alphabet of time
Tomorrow was the word she soon got right
But was reluctant to mouth yesterday
Although in time she had to tell the time.

The nursery cuckoo-clock has lost its chime
But today as you talk and look ahead