The Untranslatability of my Udon Breakfast
by Belle Ling
7 a.m. space-probes in a pool. Morning is a container within another container. Every day keeps its stomach low, its mouth takes in whatever it is given. “Do you need half an hour to consume your udon?” Mum’s voice is adrift. Time here is like teeth, partially seen, a few leftover fibres in the broken blue. Cirrostratus. Probably.
Where should I draw the line between the teeth and the dent? Concavity is where the force exerted. Mum has been playing a major role in steering my relationship with the udon. I am not sure how. Somehow, she does. “Stop spilling, please.” She imagines herself as the Creator, the true dimension of a vacuum.
It is very often that my hands develop and just hang there like a vista of quasi-occurrences—rising and falling—hardly obey what the day demands. Soy sauce stains my skirt. A rarely visible minute escaped, and I am just one inch apart—my udon.
Now only discs of light, then dewy striation, and billows of puffy smoke complicating my bowl of udon. A constant featureless state. Like a hue gradually forgotten after repetitive laundry cycles, while I am reinforcing my existence in the whitewashed colour around my skirt’s pocket.
“How long will you finish your udon?” Mum interrogates. A gruel, self-lit, somehow a disorderly matter of whites, at the back of mind picks up the glimpses of the cumulus. “Quick! Pick up yourself!” Everything, now, soy-sauced. This quietness, too, soy-sauced, menacing my mind on a dotted canvas.
“You turn everything dark!” shouts mum.
For how many times I have been reminded that I need to rise. Even wakefulness is a candy floss spinning fantasies. Even I vomit. Even I am no more than a fluid image in the eventual trance of lights. For how many times the buildings around me inhabit a solid-looking selfhood that temperature is only a layer of indifference sorting out its molten portion—
So does my miso udon. It needs to rise. Bachelard: “… the sublime and the moving space between.”
Just above the horizon, the crumpling skin of the miso paste, pianissimo accelerato. The way we come to understand ourselves by not falling out of it—pianissimo diminuendo—heat levels its legs in my udon, too swampy to move forward, humbling sitting.
At home and outside, the rhythm of udon only appears when I do not look for it.
The seaweed flags, those green nerves, growing roots into absence.
“Never does the distance from A to B bother me. It is the fact that from A to B I need to move,” I mutter.
“Are you sure you wanna go?” asks Mum.
Mum’s voice opens and closes an abyss. Pianissimo legato. Decrescendo al dolce. The way the first movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Number 2 tows me slowly underneath all uncertainties, like how an ocean engulfs all directions to signal a direction—
rising, warming—What would it be? What would it not be?
Long ago, all paths led to one main road where a clear outline meant an answer.
Perplexation now in the heat, alights the udon, further into a vertigo, when the trees dapple. “Nobody’s gonna taking care of you but you. You’ve to take full responsibility of your own portion of udon.”
What does it mean, I wonder?
The clock maps its boredom onto a circle within another circle. I am shrunk into the ticks, refined, receding. From A to B the ticking beseeches my feet to take off, to and fro, at times oblivious.
A is a beginning. B is another beginning. Ending restarts itself when it is reached. A beginning chewed into a new beginning to almost everything. “No plan is a good plan,” mumbles Mum, “a path is a long narrow periphery that will never get to your destination.”
Now perplexation lowers me to the same level and stares me straight.
“All shall be well. All manners of things shall be well.” Mum seems to be talking about a cloud. Come and gone, a black-magnet cloud, come and gone, a baby-elephant cloud.
Each moment, crenellated, like my udon. Neither thick nor thin, just elastic enough to be recognised.
“A cloud never grows heavy enough to fall in a cloud-form to let you know how it’s felt.”
Every detail attuned to my chopsticks, as I squeeze the udon. There is no from A to B, no destination. Just an untranslation obsessed, lengthened, caressed, silhouetted.
Such light-blue. Such yet-to-be years broken and meshed as illusions.
Waves, wings, and whispers against my bowl.
Editor’s note: This essay was commissioned for “The Writing Life Beyond COVID-10: A Virtual Residency” (3-9 August 2020, jointly organised by Cha: An Asian Literary Journal and the newly founded Mongrel Writers Residence. Watch the videos here. Header image: Source.
How to cite: Ling, Belle. “The Untranslatability of my Udon Breakfast.” Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, 18 Aug. 2020, chajournal.blog/2020/08/18/udon/.
Belle Ling received her PhD in Creative Writing at The University of Queensland, Australia. Her first poetry collection A Seed and a Plant was shortlisted for The HKU International Poetry Prize 2010. Her recent poetry manuscript Rabbit-Light was highly commended in the 2018 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize. Her other manuscript Grass Flower Head was shortlisted for the First Book Poetry Prize 2018 of Puncher and Wattmann. Her poem “63 Temple Street, Mong Kok”was a co-winner in the Peter Porter Poetry Prize 2018 held by the Australian Book Review. She is now teaching at The University of Hong Kong.