Melbourne Symphony

Thuy On

Let’s meet beneath the clocks I say you know the usual steps fourth row from the top I’ll be leaning against the slightly sticky rail the weak glare of autumnal sun contouring my face gazing across the vista of shapes of billboards of buildings horizontal and vertical and jagged the crane on its downward pendulum with religion-commerce-entertainment captured within lazy eye-sweep looming over swarming pedestrians such shoals of industry the cars-trams-bikes a hubbub of noise neon flash traffic light tick tick in concert with hoots of careless laughter with food pimps’ promise of 20 percent off vegan curry and the righteous dude with hand-scribbled placard to save our souls and over there designer goths fishnets-slashed eyeliner-scowled and over here salarymen in hermetic bubbles of importance pushing past leisurewear mums ferrying the next generation a smear of chocolate as thick as blood across baby cheeks and upwards a stray balloon bouncing and downwards hardened balls of gum underfoot and on the right bouquets for the nose and the tableaux of moving images roll on and on in continuous loop but then a shrill in the ear as you say hey the Sunbury line is running late again.

Let’s meet at the cafe around the corner you know the one where the actor-barista has a python wrapped ‘round his bicep and always tries to flirt with me and sniggers at you behind his lumberjack beard about your weak decaf order why even bother mate fine you stick with your lukewarm brown bath-water I need a strong double hit need to stay awake for that bar I was telling you about past the graffitied alley down that cobbled laneway behind the dumpster of course there’s no visible signage don’t be silly we have to look both cool and desperate and wait for the mixologist to peek behind the heavy drapes take pity and invite us inside me in a backless sparkly number you gelled and cufflinked nonchalantly welcomed into the gloom into the glittery decadence low-key ambient tones bouncing off the black gloss cut sharp I want to sink into those luxe red velvet booths sip cocktails with names of German Expressionist actresses blink at the slowly revolving disco ball then close my eyes altogether feel the frisson of you near me your fingertips trailing my arm the deliciousness of it heat and touch and heat and touch.

Let’s meet under the arches where little firefly lights are already shimmering in the gloaming and the lanterns are bobbing in the goosepimply breeze did you know that my favourite colour is red did you know that this is the longest Chinese settlement in the western world of course you don’t too busy checking out every bubble cup tea shop on the strip yeah I know your usual order milky taro with pearls and jelly I may have a durian ice-cream instead so over sneers of its week-old socks scent I mean no one has a swipe about stinky French cheeses do they but first let’s go get us some dumplings and green tea and something crispy and salty and just pick a place already past those white marble lions with roars petrified and those cheongsam smiley lures fanning themselves with half-chewed menus I want sesame sizzle and you can have fire engine-bright chillies with your stir-fry doused with an Asahi or Bintang let’s try a noodle house maybe honeyed prawns tossed on the side water spinach in spicy shrimp paste and can we go visit a herbalist grocery store after I need some Tiger Balm my back is killing me.

Let’s meet beneath the water wall look I’ve found a veiny tri-coloured leaf to stick on it place your hands there yeah like that so cool hey stop flicking me c’mon no past the gift shop we can do that later let’s go to the permanents the oils and the drawings the glass and the solids the wisp of dreams by those of bygone eras the chutzpah of the moderns form and chaos let’s zig-zag back and forth and get lost in the labyrinthine corridors and be spooked out by all those canvas eyes following us across cavernous rooms then we can lie on the carpet unravelling but fingers entwined beneath the hard-edged tapestry ceiling our eyes awash with colour just shake your head gently side by side it’s a kaleidoscope a dazzle to fill ourselves up with wonder later I have opening tickets to a show next door at the mini spire the venue where 75,o00 tiny brass cups are on the ceiling yup that many we can dress up and saunter along the plush carpet and gold gilt and then after cross the upside-down river check out the flotsam of movement swirling in the purple dark.

Let’s meet at the tram stop in front of the library no don’t drive in you know how hopeless you are at hook turns just PT it if you don’t see me I’ll be chatting to the Big Issue vendor at his usual corner or throwing a few coins to the busker but really I’d rather just pay him to stop butchering Crowded House already c’mon we have time can dawdle window shop a little do you know the French term for that literally means licking windows so true we can’t afford any of that stuff just stick our tongues out in abject desire let’s flâneur with lazy detours down to the Tan instead down to the ornamental lake there past the 3,000 succulents all spiky and fleshy and small red yellow pink flowering let’s find a spot on the green beneath the green you can read me another chapter of that book you have to do all the accents I’ll lay my head on your lap shutter my flicking eyes listen to your voice to the murmuring breeze to the faraway buzz of traffic.

Thuy On is reviews editor of ArtsHub and a freelance arts journalist, critic and poet. She’s the outgoing books editor of The Big Issue. Her first book, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, was published in 2020 by UWAP. 

Illustration: Marc Martin

Brought to you by the Metro Tunnel Creative Program for Melbourne Writers Festival. Excerpts of ‘Writing Melbourne’ and accompanying illustrations can be seen at City Square on Swanston Street when restrictions ease.