Read to discover

A New York minute with Billy Collins

The Singapore River isn’t the Hudson
But it has a homely charm of its own,
The Botanic Gardens no Central Park
But a tranquil, sylvan landmark
Well worth a visit or two.
Life in Singapore is nothing to rue
Unless you make much ado
About the Straits Times
Being no New York Times.
Then you’re in the wrong time zone.

Yes, there’s a 12-hour difference between Singapore time and Eastern Standard Time. Midnight in Singapore is midday in New York.

But you don’t have to be in New York to appreciate the poems of Billy Collins. Though this one is called Eastern Standard Time, and specifically addressed to people in his time zone, you appreciate the humour and homely details even if, like me, you are on Singapore time.

 Eastern Standard Time
By Billy Collins

Poetry speaks to all people, it is said,
but here I would like to address
only those in my own time zone,
this proper slice of longitude
that runs from pole to snowy pole,
down the globe from Montreal to Bogota

Oh, fellow inhabitants of this singular band,
sitting up in your many beds this morning —
the sun falling through the windows
and casting a shadow on the sundial —
consider those in other timezones who cannot hear these words,

They are not slipping into a bathrobe as we are,
or following the smell of coffee in a timely fashion.

Rather, they are at work already,
leaning on copy machines,
hammering nails into a house-frame.

They are not swallowing a vitamin like us,
rather they are smoking a cigarette under a half-moon,
even jumping around on a dance floor,
or just now sliding under the covers,
pulling down the little chains on their bed lamps.

But we are not like these others,
for at this very moment on the face of the earth,
we are standing under a hot shower,

or we are eating our breakfast,
considered by people of all zones
to be the most important meal of the day.

Later, when the time is right,
we might sit down with the boss,
wash the car, or linger at a candle-lit table,
but now is the hour for pouring the juice
and flipping the eggs with one eye on the toaster.

So let us slice a banana and uncap the jam,
lift our brimming spoons of milk,
and leave it to the others to lower a flag
or spin absurdly in a barber’s chair —
those antipodal oddballs, always early or late.

Let us praise Sir Stanford Fleming,
the Canadian genius who first scored
with these lines the length of the spinning earth.

Let us move together through the rest of this day
passing in unison from light to shadow,
coasting over the crest of noon
into the valley of the evening
and then, holding hands, slip into the deeper valley of night.

Eastern Standard Time appeared in The Trouble With Poetry And Other Poems by Billy Collins, published in 2005. I also particularly like the title poem and two other poems: House and Fool Me Good.


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