Central Time

Fleur Adcock

‘The time is nearly one o’clock,
or half-past twelve in Adelaide’ –
where the accents aren’t quite so ... Australian
as in the other states, the ones
that were settled (not their fault, of course)
by convicts. We had Systematic
Colonisation, and Colonel Light,
and the City of Adelaide Plan. We have the Park Lands.

It’s time for the news at 1.30 –
one o’clock Central Time in Adelaide.

It’s early days in Hobart Town,
and Maggie May has been transported
(not such fun as it sounds, poor lass)
to toil upon Van Diemen’s cruel shore.
It’s 1830 or thereabouts
(1800 in Adelaide?
No, no, this is going too far
as she might have said herself at the time.)

The time is three o’clock, etc.
The time is passing.
You’re tuned to ABC Radio.
We’ll be bringing you that programme shortly.

It’s five o’clock in Adelaide
and Maggie May has found her way
to a massage parlour in Gouger Street.
The Red Light Zone (as we don’t call it)
extends from the West Park Lands to Light Square
(named for the Colonel, not the Zone).
The Colonel’s in two minds about it;
his fine Eurasian face is troubled.

The Colonel’s an anomaly.
There are plenty of those in Adelaide.

Meanwhile, back in Van Diemen’s Land,
a butcher bird sings coloratura
in the courtyard of the Richmond Gaol
as tourists file through with their cameras,
wondering how to photograph
a Dark Cell for solitary
from the inside, with the door shut.
Look, they had them for women too!

It’s half-past eight in Adelaide
and 4 a.m. in Liverpool.
Maggie May wants to ring Lime Street.
You mean they don’t have STD?
But I thought this was the New World.

They don’t have GMT, either;
or BST, as they call it now,
whenever now is.
                 It is now
half-past ten in Adelaide,
and in the Park Lands a nasty man
is cutting up a teenage boy
and cramming him into a plastic bag.

In Gouger Street another man,
equally nasty but less wicked,
has taken his wife to a performance
of Wagner at the Opera Theatre
and is strolling with her to their car
past the massage parlour
where something like five hours ago
Maggie May gave him a hand-job.

The Colonel’s brooding over his notebooks,
and lying under his stone, and standing
on his plinth on Montefiore Hill.

Maggie May is still on the’phone,
arguing with the operator,
trying to get through to Lime Street.
It’s the future she wants,
or the past back. Some of it.

You’re listening to ABC FM:
12.30 Eastern Standard Time –
twelve midnight in Adelaide.
And now, to take us through the night,
Music to Keep the Days Apart.