Sunday Visits

I

They rise early     gather ID     prepare

for the tedious     much awaited

and never missed

weekly visit.

 

On arrival they face abuse     long delays

the humiliation of being searched

and may even be turned away

on some minor pretext

that is not negotiable.

 

The ever-present guards

with guns and sniffer dogs

ensure no gifts     no privacy

no intimacy.

Chatter     clatter   

and cigarette smoke

fill the crowded room.

 

With pain in their hearts

and sometimes misty eyes

they talk     mostly superficially

they joke     mostly to cover feelings

they eat     mostly to kill time

they play     to keep kids occupied.

 

Exhausted     they face

the return journey

and the sad week ahead.

Their loved one     is searched

to ensure no contraband

has been passed.

 

Each mentally marks off

one more week.

 

 

II

The toddler     is excited

to see Daddy

cuddles and kisses him.

 

He didn’t like the first place

where they were caged

with other families

sat at tables and chairs

bolted to the floor

were not allowed     food

or drink.

 

Now     he plays on swings

until driven back     to the warmth

by cutting winds     drizzle

and stinging nose.

 

He avoids the rough kids

wanders     around the room

entertains prisoners

and their visitors

explores picnic baskets

and wonders why his dad

and the men in green

live there     and not at home

with their families.

c.  Kathryn Coughran

 

First published: 1994

In: Family Matters

(Kathryn Andersen)

 

Chain Reaction

His incarceration

leads to eviction

for her      and their toddler.

Family move her closer

to where he is held.

 

Without warning

he is transported

to a distant prison.

 

She cannot visit

until others are free

to take her:

pressure on them

and

never time alone

with her man.

 

Limited funds

and benefit mix-ups

leave her with little food

and nothing to finance

his necessities at ‘buy-ups’.

 

She visits friend after friend

he phones where she has been

finds she has moved on:

one of his two precious calls

per week      wasted.

 

He is tense      confused

fears the loss of his family.

She is angry      unavailable

and her landlord

becomes demanding.

 

She      their son      and

unborn child

face homelessness

for the second time

in as many months

 

and there are four months pending…

 

c. Kathryn Coughran

 

First published: 1994

In: Family Matters

(Kathryn Andersen)

Shattered

Through a veil of tears

and to the drone

of the solicitor’s voice

they watch him leave.

 

Silhouetted beside the custodian

linked at the wrist

with cold silver

bodies stiffly apart

at the shoulders

 

he walks the long corridor

to begin the six months

that feels

like a life sentence.

 

c. Kathryn Coughran

 

First published: 1994

In: Family Matters

(Kathryn Andersen)

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)

 

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

 

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