1st Place: ‘Bullaun’ by Dúnlaith Bird

You have a bullaun in the small of your back, a smooth hollow of soft, scarred skin. They
took out one of your vertebrae when you were a baby so that you could walk, and it left a hole
that a stone could spin in, terrible and tender to look at. An inverted peach, a peach-pit, blush-
pink. You leave the bed, cross to the window, and I lie on blue sheets and watch you, walking
on your toes as though you were only barely tethered to the ground. A child of a man, joy lifts
you with every step. My eyes trail down your back. You come back to me, hang over me. I
sink my knuckles into the nook, down your back and then nestling there.

A bullaun is a stone with a hole in it, into which another stone can sit, can spin. You find them
at the beach, sometimes, natural Russian dolls, one cupped inside the other. They seem
incongruously perfect; that one stone would find its fit in another, would migrate there
naturally, pulled by the waves. The larger ones were used as baptismal fonts, the baby’s head
dipped in, smooth head surrounded by well-worn stone. The cup and cradling of the parent’s
hands, the benediction of water. A reminder that you are part of the community, held safe.
You fit here, with us.

A smaller bullaun could be used to curse or cure. Spin the stone one way, curse your foe, spin
it the other and bless your friend. I could fit a smooth stone into the small of your back, curse
you for leaving me or bless you for loving me. I will always have known true love, first love,
all-consuming love I gave everything to, because I gave it to you. I have kissed the hollow
space at the base of you, dipped my tongue into it like cool water. What is a stone without a
bullaun, a perfect round without a hollow? I am spun and worn smooth in you, how can I ever
fit another?

About the Author

Dr. Dúnlaith Bird is Senior Lecturer in English at the Université Sorbonne Paris Nord. As
well as her monograph, Travelling in Different Skins: Gender Identity in European Women’s
Oriental Travelogues, 1850-1950
(OUP, 2012), she has published articles and chapters on
Isabella Bird, Isabelle Eberhardt, and Freya Stark. She also researches the role of electricity in
the work of Samuel Beckett. She is a theatre reviewer for The Beckett Circle and the founder
of the Beckett Brunch. Her research interests include vagabondage, postcolonialism, gender
identity, Irish modernism, and Samuel Beckett. This is her first published fiction.

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Published by sonderlit

New Irish literary magazine reflecting people, our differences and similarities.

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