Hidden Agenda

 

1

Knife-sharp bell

cuts morning silence.

‘Can I borrow Dad’s tie?’ he says

but she knows

he phoned for reassurance

this being the day

he must face reality.

 

He listens

to attempts to prepare him

and knows

she thinks

he’ll go away.

 

11

‘Like a traffic jam’ she tells him.

‘There is no way out

until it’s over.

Let it get you down

and you’ll feel frustrated

angry     tense

and will come home

exhausted and bitter.

 

‘Take it easy

use time productively

and you’ll feel enriched

satisfied

and come home

positive and eager.’

 

His response is calm

even

while inside

he quietly goes hysterical.

 

111

He hopes for leniency

thinks a record

of only minor misdemeanors

a month in rehab

to get off the booze

and the presence of his girlfriend

heavily pregnant with their second child

will ensure compassion.

 

Instead, pending fatherhood

is viewed as further evidence

of irresponsibility.

 

Anticipation

turns to devastation

as he hears the sentence.

 

His body slumps.

 

He glances at his partner

dissolved in tears

unable to look at him

to bear the pain

of seeing his face.

 

He raises his wrists

to the custodian.

Handcuffs click shut.

 

He whispers to his mother

‘Take care of my family

while I make the most

of this traffic jam’.

 

c. Kathryn Coughran

 

First published: 1994

In: Family Matters (Kathryn Andersen)

 

Fruits Of Labour

 

He came from the depths

of dark days.

 

Grandparents of unfulfilled dreams

passed pain to parents

as they strove for better

for their offspring:

materialistic emphasis

getting on

building a new world

regardless

of personal sacrifice.

 

Fear of ‘not enough’

caused his parents

to strive harder:

always doing… doing

avoiding… avoiding

their own needs

until

discontent surfaced

marriage collapsed

life shattered

fragmented

scattered.

 

Confused     hurt     angry

he rebelled:

played truant from school

ran with gangs

who carried weapons

threatened suicide

and his mother’s life

with a knife.

 

He chose alcohol

as his vehicle of destruction

the anaesthesia for his rage

and the excuse

for its explosion.

 

Long-haired and tattooed

he joined a mate

of similar demeanour:

stole a car

drove it while unlicensed

and

under the influence

ignored red lights

panicked

and planted foot

when police pursued.

 

He emerged

from holding cells

days later

black-eyed     fat-lipped

numb-fingered

from metal round wrist

to post

while body flung down stairs

nose broken in two places.

 

He emerged

with eight serious charges

to the arms     and wrath

of his pregnant

teenage girlfriend.

 

He came from the depths

of darkness

and moved into the depths

of despair.

 

c. Kathryn Coughran

 

First published: 1994

In: Family Matters (Kathryn Andersen)

 

Good Samaritan

There was a post on Facebook yesterday, about inadvertently leaving items on the roof of the car when you drive off. People commented about losing expensive sunglasses, wallets and coffee cups. Others drove long distances without realising their error, only to find a biscuit tin or a china mug intact when they arrived at their destinations.

Inevitably, there were joking little jibes about mindfulness… and lack of it, of ageing and memory variants. These were balanced by acknowledgement of how being busy (in this case, focussing on community and the environment) weakens our attention to routine activities.

We’ve all been there… and have done something we wouldn’t have done had we not been over-loaded, stressed and/or distracted. We can all identify with items left on car rooves, even if mindlessness has led us down a different embarrassing track.

I’m sure I’ve been guilty of many and varied actions born out of distraction over the years. I make no excuses or apologies for these, and neither should anyone else. We can minimise such events, of course, but we are all human, and thus subject to the pressures of everyday life.

Some years ago, I arrived home from a day of appointments and shopping, put some things on the roof of the car while I locked it, then gathered them up and went inside. Several days later, there was a note under my door saying my (very expensive) x-rays had been found and could be collected at such-and-such an address.

I hadn’t even realised the scans were missing, but soon worked out what must have happened. When I summoned the courage, I shame-facedly knocked on the door at the address I’d been given and explained who I was.

‘I found these a few days ago’, the man said. ‘They were scattered right across the road and the envelope was further down the street.’

‘I think I left them on the roof of the car’, I said sheepishly. ‘But that would have been close to a week ago…’

‘They must have been on your roof for a few days at that rate, then skidded off when you turned that corner on the rise over there’, he suggested, nodding his head towards where he’d found the precious films.

From the remainder of the conversation, I learned the man was on holidays, had no vehicle and, wanting to recuperate after heavy stress at work, was keen to keep to himself.  

After he rescued my x-rays, he took several long walks in a bid to find where I lived. He eventually found my address, but my flat number didn’t appear on the envelope, so he knocked on every door of the eighteen units trying to find me.

Unbeknown to him, most of the flats in the block were permanently empty, and the tenants of the other four – including me – were not at home. He returned several times before someone answered his knock and gave him my flat number.

With my knock on his door, his detective work and tenacity had paid off, and my necessary medical records had been delivered back to me… albeit in a round-a-bout way. The man had even cleaned them up after their adventure in the street.

I was so grateful I could have kissed him. I didn’t, of course… but I did thank him profusely, then left him in peace. I wrote a Thank You message and slipped it under the door of his holiday home at my first opportunity.

Life has since taken me to another part of the state, but I still visit that area occasionally. When I pass the house where he stayed, I think of his kindness and wonder if he left the house before my note was delivered.

A lack of in-the-moment awareness on my part led to the mishap with my x-rays, but this man’s mindfulness shone in every sense of the word ~

  • He was cognisant of the importance of my medical records.
  • He concentrated on rescuing them, cleaning them up, and getting them back to me.
  • He went to painstaking lengths to restore them to me.
  • He was selfless in his consideration and kindness.

And this was all while he was recuperating from his own stressful work situation…

This man was indeed a mindful Good Samaritan of the highest order!

Once Each Year

In my childhood

New Year’s Eve

was equaled

only by Christmas.

 

We donned bathers and hats

piled into Rickety Kate

~ our Ford of ’27 vintage ~

and headed for the beach.

 

My father drove

along endless country roads

over the narrow bridge

with the bend high above water

which scared me so much

I hid behind the front seat

until danger was past

and I knew we would not fly

to our deaths

encapsulated in our car

at the bottom of the river.

 

An early lunch

ensured a vacant table

where we spread a cloth

crockery and food

prepared by my mother

in previous days

of searing heat.

 

We devoured chicken salad

my brother’s birthday cake   

and family specialties

made from secret recipes

then

we grudgingly cleared scraps

and packed left-overs.

 

Restrained to allow

an hour for lunch to settle

we were like chained puppies

impatient to frolic

in the water.

 

When unleashed

we ran until waist high in the sea

squealed as undercurrents

dragged our feet from beneath us

and bolstered ourselves

against the strength of waves

anxious to break

over our heads.

 

We collected shells

built sandcastles

and watched them disintegrate

with the incoming tide

then we ran for another dip

before splashing Mum and Dad

as we begged a canoe ride

in the river’s mouth.

 

With the sun’s descent

we flopped      exhausted

onto vinyl seats

that stuck to our legs.

 

We fell asleep to the engine’s hum

content in the knowledge

that in one year

we would again enjoy

our annual family outing.

c.  Kathryn Coughran

 

A Day Of Writing Fun

This is an extract from an article called Words Of The Wise, which I wrote for the Central Coast Seniors Newspaper – Over 50s Lifestyle – back when I was Kathryn Andersen.

Several years ago, I had the privilege of facilitating Writing For Fun workshops for school students during the holidays, on behalf of Gosford Fellowship Of Australian Writers. What follows is my account of how the day unfolded…

Anticipation was high. Thirty-one children between the ages of seven and eleven piled into the Spike Milligan Room at Woy Woy Library.

Four senior women were there to greet them. They had already arranged furniture and organised treats for their young guests. They had also spent weeks organising the event.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but it is worth it,” one of them said.

It was difficult to tell who was the most excited, and in some cases, anxious.

Names were marked off, parents took their leave, and young bodies settled at tables with unfamiliar companions.

One of the women welcomed the newcomers and introduced me as the tutor for Writing For Fun, a free workshop organised by the Gosford branch of the Fellowship Of Australian Writers (FAW).

“We want to encourage young people who enjoy writing,” Bridget Sharp said.

Bridget and fellow-FAW members, Sheila Drakeley, Helen Luidens and Joan-Marion Ben, handed out writing paper and colourful pencils to the children, distributed cordial and biscuits, and were on hand to assist me and the children on their writing journey.

The women mingled amongst the aspiring writers, giving them guidance and support. Some of them even worked side by side with the children, to complete the writing exercises themselves.

Children who thought they had no ideas found they had several and were soon putting them on paper. Others, who had thought they could get ideas but not put them to use, were soon developing poems and stories.

The morning passed in a flurry of word associations, Ezra Pound Couplets, Dylan Thomas Portraits, character profiles and the antics of clowns.

Then, as quickly as they came, the children were gone; bearing packets of chips, their pencils, the fruits of their labour, and colourful certificates.

This was round one for the FAW women. Fresh mugs and more biscuits laid out and the room again readied, they grabbed a quick bite before the arrival of eighteen more writing enthusiasts aged between eleven and fourteen years.

This time, writing pens were issued with the paper, ideas became more ideas and then titles to be drawn from a box and written about. First lines were explored, much work shared, and questions about getting published were answered and discussed.

The FAW representatives distributed information about suitable competitions. “Enter your work in competitions and try to get your writing published,” the children were told.

Both groups of students were asked to share previous writing successes. There were many, among them a proud Astrid Worboys told of winning a prize in the ‘Spike Fest’, run by the Bouddi Society last October, with the limerick she had written at the previous FAW children’s workshop. Her prize was a parcel of poetry books and the opportunity to recite the winning limerick at the cavalcade of prize-winners towards the end of the festival. Nine-year-old Astrid’s limerick was included in a book of winning entries published by Gosford Council, and she also read it on Central Coast Community Radio.

“I’d say that was another successful day,” Bridget Sharp commented as five Over 50s (tutor included!) watched the last of the happy participants scurry from the room.

Fair comment indeed, as it was Bridget who taught the limerick session at the children’s workshops the previous year!

Generous Tradition

This is no ordinary Christmas cake. It is a cake baked with love by one beautiful woman (my sister Jen) in honour of another wonderful woman (our mother) and given to a very grateful woman (me). But this is just a fraction of the story…

My mother cooked a special cake every year – and in earlier days, Christmas puddings with silver threepences and sixpences sprinkled throughout for good luck. The tradition of coins in the puddings ended with the advent of decimal currency in 1966, when cupronickel replaced silver alloy and the coins turned green if cooked, but Mum’s delicious Christmas cakes continued until her death in 1991.

Then Jen set herself the challenge of baking Mum’s cake for each of her siblings every year. With four surviving siblings besides Jen, scattered far and wide down the east coast of Australia, this undertaking also involved packaging for safe posting among Christmas mail.

Twenty-six years later, my 2017 gift from Jen arrived last week, solidly steady in the centre of a post box tightly packed in foil and surrounded by bubble wrap… as it has been each year.

Jen gradually added others to her list of recipients of this generous offering. Last Christmas, she made twenty Christmas cakes – for her siblings, her partner’s siblings, adopted siblings, friends, and a couple of extra cakes to keep on hand for visitors and herself.

That’s a lot of Christmas cakes in just over a quarter of a century!

Jen still uses Mum’s unique recipe and has also adapted it for those in the family who must be totally gluten free. Regardless of which version of the recipe Jen uses, the cakes are delicious… superb… and loved by all.

My gratitude goes to Jen for her thoughtfulness and generosity, and above all for establishing and continuing this tradition in honour of our mother.

 

Poignant Reminder

 

It’s still here

hasn’t changed really…

 

I imagine

familiar carpet     curtains

pull-down light     over dining table

but sense     the energy

is different     now

 

New people     live

in these rooms

 

I wonder

at the brand of love    that bounces

off the walls     penetrates

their hearts

 

and remember

time     spent here

struggling for air     choking

with confusion

 

and know     the decision

to leave     saved my life.

 

c. Kathryn Coughran

 

Highly Commended: 2005 Joan Johnson Poetry Award (Kathryn Andersen)

 

Yin & Yang

For Ashlee – 22.08.1991-12.09.2013 

 

Twelve inch thongs on three inch feet

left on right     right on left

four small toes fitting neatly

in the space of one adult big toe…

you strut about the house

chin held high

golden curls flowing to your waist.

 

You snatch your brother’s toy

while Mum’s back is turned

smile in glee as you watch him punished

for trying to get it back.

 

‘Mine!’ you screech

when your empty cup is removed from the table

or if someone should hold an item you want.

 

‘No, not!  Tell my Daddy, you!’ you pout

when unable to have your way.

 

You insist on calling David ‘Dave’

announce ‘Dave, you’re Grandmum, right?’

and ‘Grandmum, you’re Dave’

then proceed to address us

by each other’s name

for as long as it suits you.

 

Contrary to the core

a storehouse of limitless energy

you fill the room with your presence…

 

as you do      when you sit

on your mother’s lap

look intently into her eyes 

or

walk hand in hand with big brother

exploring flowers and butterflies

and when you

lie quietly with baby    tenderly stroking

his tiny limbs

or

when you sing to Dolly

as you tuck her into bed

 

and most treasured of all

 

when you bounce into my room

angelic face framed by silken hair

eyes sparkling beneath long lashes

excited smile exuding from young lips

 

softness      softness      everywhere…

 

c. Kathryn Coughran

 

First published: 1994 in Family Matters (Kathryn Andersen)

Also: 2017 on Scriggler – https://scriggler.com/DetailPost/Poetry/45331

 

Poison Tongues

‘A’ says something to ‘B’ about ‘C’.

‘B’ agrees, and adds a little.

Her fire fuelled, ‘A’ contributes again.

Hyped, ‘B’ continues

making it up as she goes.

 

Reaction… leads to reaction…

leads to reaction…

 

A fact, taken out of context

twisted and distorted with jealousy,

is moulded

until the meaning has changed.

 

‘B’ can’t wait to tell ‘C’ what ‘A’ has said.

‘A’ soon takes her opportunity

to report to ‘C’

that ‘B’ has been tale-telling.

 

Both ‘A’ and ‘B’ believe

they have spoken the truth:

each has shared their reality

even if maliciously…

 

and the truth lies

somewhere in between.

 

 c. Kathryn Coughran

 

First published: 1993 in Live At Don Bank – Live Poets’ Society Anthology  

Also: 1994 in Family Matters (Kathryn Andersen)

Also: 2017 on Scriggler – https://scriggler.com/DetailPost/Poetry/113005

 

 

Nipped In The Bud

Wedged        in a bed of snow

against a backdrop of bricks

the headstones        stand in rows

like the teeth of an old man

with gingivitis.

 

Not the graves of soldiers       

taken in battle

as first glimpse would suggest

but

fifteen hundred children

of Sarajevo

ripped        from the future.

 

 c. Kathryn Coughran

 

First published: 1994 in Family Matters (Kathryn Andersen)

Best Poem Of The Night: Penrith Sailing Club Readings 1998…

…Chosen by a scout from The Joan Sutherland Centre