La Mian In Melbourne
On Little Bourke Street it's the bewitching hour
by Kim Cheng Boey
of winter dusk's last riffs playing
long mauve shadows down the blocks,
waking the neon calligraphy, its quavering script
mirrored on the warm sheen of the Noodle King
where a man slaps and pummels the dough
into a pliant wad. He takes a fist-sized ball
and starts his noodle magic, stretching the bands,
the sleight-of-hand plain for you to see,
weaving a stave of floury silent music.
You stand islanded from the passage
of bodies and cars, the art of la mian
reeling you in to a music deep beneath
the murmur of traffic, beyond the fusillade
of a siren down the street. Between here
and wherever home is the noodles stretch,
sinuous, continuous, edible songlines multiplying
into a cat's cradle of memories, the loom-work
of hands calling to the half-forgotten hum,
hunger for what is gone, the lost noodle-makers
of the country left behind:
the wanton mee hawker in Tiong Bahru,
the mee rebus man on Stamford Road,
and Grandmother serving long life
noodles for each birthday, her deft hands
pulling three generations under one roof.
The noodles were slightly sweetened to ensure
the long years came happy, not like Grandmother's
difficult eight decades, the family dispersed
at the end, the ritual of birthday noodles lost.
Now you watch the handful of hand-pulled
noodles dunked in a boiling pot, then scooped
with a mesh ladle onto a waiting bowl of broth.
You sit before it, enveloped in steam,
chopsticks ready to seize the ends
or beginnings, and start pulling them in.