from Issue #2: Poetry by Tessa Lunney

Photo (CC) Colin @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Colin @ Flickr


Your love is a blood red stone

My heart beats in this blood red
stone. This stone, rolled
by the oceans for aeons,
from the depths of the ocean’s
soul, rolled over and over
from Indian to Atlantic to Pacific
to Old Bar Beach, this shore.
This blood red stone rolls
to my toes as I tread the tide line.
This blood red stone, so smooth,
so sure, so absolute, it rolls
sure into my palm. It sits
whole on my tongue, in my
mouth, so simple and pure.
It tastes of salt and centuries,
of love and blood-iron
and memories. It’s heavy and firm
with home. My heart beats
in this blood red stone, beats here,
this stone, this shore.


We built our fires on the beach
(a letter to a friend who first showed me poetry)           

We built our fires on the beach
when you were nineteen and missed
your man in the rain (he said
he thought of you with great affection, still)
Pain slid over your skin and puddled
in your hips but you stamped your spine
with ink and declared

Who pays any attention
to the syntax of things

Tea and toast was manna, and the golden ratio
echoed in your father’s words,
in the rain’s roof-top jazz.
The world fizzed and popped
it expanded like a nightmare
like a grail
and still you declared

And kisses are a better fate
than wisdom

but wisdom came anyway.
Paper dolls and pewter earrings
adorned a life lived head-first,
heart-first, when Spring is in the world
There was spring-life in your step, my Goddess of Small Things,
and each raindrop (you said in smiles)
holds a world, hear it sing
hear it sing
and you declared

And I think death is no parenthesis



Tessa Lunney has recently completed a creative doctorate at the University of Western Sydney. She examined silences in contemporary Australian war fiction and wrote a novel as the bulk of her dissertation. She has had her poetry, fiction and reviews published in Southerly, Mascara, Illumina, Phoenix, and Hermes, among others, as well as the inaugural issue of Contrappasso. She works as an editorial assistant at Southerly. She lives in Sydney, and dreams of Elsewhere.

Tessa’s poem “We built our fires on the beach” quotes “since feeling is first” by e.e. cummings.

Sydney launch

Image Daniel Boud, Tourism NSW

Image Daniel Boud, Tourism NSW

Thanks to everybody who came along to the Sydney launch of our second issue on December 12 and to the contributors who read at the event: Mark Tredinnick, Tessa Lunney, Erin Martine Sessions, Daniel East, Chris Oakey, Elias Greig, and Luke Whitington. Poetry editor Theodore Ell read Antigone Kefala‘s ‘The Fatal Queen’. Editor Matthew Asprey read extracts from Mimi Lipson‘s ‘Safe, Courteous, Reliable’ and Floyd Salas‘s ‘Steve Nash, Homosexual Transient’.

from issue #1: Poetry by Tessa Lunney

Photograph by Charlotte Marillet @ Flickr (CC)

Bellingen Days

The sky pinks with sunset.
Orange tints the grasses and the birds call
lychee and rum. The beach sits gritty
between my toes; cicadas hum
a humid blanket round my shoulders
while summer dusk drips
from the fern-tips and eaves.
These are the days
when the waves mould me
like a cliff face, when the wind
shapes me like dunes.
These family-soaked nights,
when the stars twist snakelike
from yesterday to tomorrow, hold me
always on the edge of dream, hold me
always in the deep
frog-call dark.

I have forgotten my keys

I left them somewhere
some time ago, but I have
forgotten where and when.
I have forgotten what you said
that hot night in Hoi An, where
under the red light of silk lanterns
you whispered how much you loved me,
the geckos blinking at us from the walls. I
have forgotten the way you danced with me
at our friends’ wedding, running your hands
over my hips in syncopation with the jazz band,
my face kissing your neck and both of us hidden
amongst the other dancers. I have forgotten your smell, your skin
softly pulsing with it in bed in the morning, your breath
pulling me into your embrace. I have forgotten
where I met you and when. I have forgotten
why I have forgotten. There must be
some reason, some reason
why I have forgotten
your voice and its
song. I know that
I have forgotten
my keys, but
where I—

Walking Shadow

It is damp, cold, and the garden is
spattered with debris. Used tea bags,
mandarin peel,

rotting celery and sickly white plastic
packaging have been hefted out of the
garbage bin by the rain,

and lie sodden in the dirt. The sky stares
back, grey blank, a cement sky

that doesn’t care if your lover left you, or
your mother hates you and always
did. The waste

of ordinary life bobs in puddle-holes left
by weeds torn up. A wine bottle leaks the
last of its purple dregs onto the path.


The wind cracks plastic and knocks on
doors in the night. Sirens cry under the

of the sulphur street light, and the rain
pulses against the house, one cloud

opened and gutted against the window,
and then the next one, and another siren,

with sick-yellow, dies in jagged bursts.
In the morning, the washing drags dirty
from the line.

Yesterday’s newspapers ripped apart,
their now black pages torn and


Under too-close asphalt clouds, a boy
throws a ball against a brick wall. The

tennis ball bounces with a thwack, which
echoes with the power of the throw. The
boy leaps as he bowls

and runs to catch the neon yellow fuzz.
Under his grey uniform, his shoulder

bulge and his quads stretch. He twists
and grunts until an invisible school bell

inside his ears, and he runs off with his
school bag through a solitary ray of sun,
the ball shining hot in his pocket.

There are his splintered hands

on the page. They crack with cold
in this coal town, his tin shack
buckled with snow. He’s too worn-out

to work or stoke the fire; he must wait
for his son to come back. His swollen
hands lie limp; my knuckles throb.

There are their whirling skirts, on the page.
They twirl in red blue green pink orange
yellow and white white white for all

the soon-to-be-known girls. The drums beat
and the men clap and the women throw open
their smiles to the sky and sing La la la la lai

faster and faster, tongues tap and skirts twirl
and the sun claps on the cobbles, on the drums,
in their mouths.

There are her hips. Her skin is the terracotta wall,
his hands are the shafts of sunlight through the alley,
the shafts of sun on her hair, her waist, her bare skin.

There is his breath on the wall, its terracotta hot
from absorbed shafts of sun, held by the alley,
and the dust rising golden in the light.

There are the houses on my street. The grass
is washed with full moonlight, and a breeze
rustles the eucalypts. A possum scuttles

from my footsteps up the path, and leaves
crunch to release the bush smell. A home
scent of gums, grass, dust, salt, and sand

rises from the green-grey and velvet night.
My home is vast, vast enough to hold
all my generations and me,
a cross of the t on the page.

A heart-shaped land

To Sarajevo

Hillsides of red trees
Haystacks on pikes
Plastic rubbish washed up
on the riverbank, now green, now grey
across rocks brown and broken
Brick houses and brick sheds
Hills and hills with skeletal trees

Villagers amble across
the tracks as the train
stops for an hour, two hours

Red signs among the bony trunks
with the skull and crossbones
Pazi! Mine!
A gleaming spinaret, a silver beacon
from the valley
Sunset pierces the mountain cracks

I still have so far to go

High Noon in Sarajevo

Little beggar boys weave
amongst the tables of the big central café
Little boys whose faces
look like all those shots from the war, pale
and broken like the side of a building.
Fashionable Bosnians drink coke and smoke,
smoke white-tipped cigarettes
in their fur-lined parkas outside Club Bill Gates.
High noon in Sarajevo — but it’s Wednesday,
and people are walking and working and don’t care
about the past, that’s for tourists. Everyone my age
or older lived through the siege, which is almost everyone I see —
except for the little beggar boys,
handing out cards bigger than their dirty hands,
under the blare of Balkan pop, under
the watch of the Cathedral, the Mosque, the hills.


The central library
full of Hebrew,
Christian and Islamic
books was bombed.

The pages exploded
far into the sky.

For days the citizens
were brushing their
forefathers’ thoughts
off their shoulders.

Photograph by Tessa Lunney

© 2012 Tessa Lunney
from Contrappasso Magazine #1, August 2012

* * * * *


Photograph by Ian Woodforth at the Contrappasso Launch, 1 August 2012

TESSA LUNNEY is currently completing her creative doctorate at the University of Western Sydney. She is looking at silences in contemporary Australian war fiction and has written a novel as the bulk of her dissertation. She has had her poetry, fiction and reviews published in Southerly, Mascara, Illumina, Phoenix, and Hermes, among others. She works as an editorial assistant at Southerly. Apart from reading and writing, she loves swing dancing, champagne, late night art galleries and travel—preferably all together, if she can manage it. She lives in Sydney.