Hope

Discarded computers

take his interest

at twenty dollars apiece.

He fiddles     fixes

teaches himself

to program      and

operate them.

 

Long     tedious hours

of frustration

sprinkled with joy.

 

He formalised his learning

and

set his sights

on a brighter future.

 

Four years      after

the error of judgement

which led him to the bench

he invites his family home

for another attempt

at building the dream.

 

 c.  Kathryn Coughran

First published: 1994

In: Family Matters

(Kathryn Andersen)

Aftermath

I

He dreads going out

facing the world

all he has longed for

now too much to bear.

 

She is confused

by his reaction

longs to forget     and resents

the boy’s rejection     of her 

in favour of

his father’s attention.

 

 

II

Her benefit cut

his not yet restored

electricity disconnected

and scarce food

they visit relatives

arrange to pay lump-sum

to landlord     when

new benefits arrive.

 

Landlord dishonours agreement

overseen by police    

he illegally

removes their belongings

down to soap from shower.

 

They win legal battle

despite humiliation

at his record     raised

in court

and

the pressing need

to find new lodgings.

 

 

III

They plan a future

studded with achievement

make promises

they cannot keep.

 

Unemployment hinders

persists

with unerring power.

The foundations of their dreams

crumble

anger     and the demon drink

edge in.

 

They move house

again     and again

together

then separately.

 

c.  Kathryn Coughran

 

First published: 1994

In: Family Matters

(Kathryn Andersen)

Transitions

I

She cries with joy     and loneliness

and for the disappointment and guilt

he will feel when he learns

he missed the birth.

 

An emotional phone call over

a photo session ensures him an image

of her     their son     and the infant

he cannot hold

to keep him company

until the completion

of his sentence.

 

 

II

Unexplained cancellation

of promised day leave

anticipation     and anxiety

cause final days to drag.

 

 

III

Amid accolades and gifts

they greet each other

with awkward nervousness

when he enters their home

for the first time

and takes his daughter

in his arms:

belated bonding begins.

 

 c.  Kathryn Coughran

 

First published: 1994

In: Family Matters

(Kathryn Andersen)

Delightful Interlude

It was a privilege to be with her

to

see her courage and perseverance

hold her hand and help her scream

to be pushed     pulled     punched

and yelled at

to cry     laugh     and sigh

with her

to breathe through contractions

and pause     in silence.

 

It was a privilege

to talk her through the appearance

of her baby’s head

like a squashed      wet      tennis ball

then the tiny face     hands     shoulders

and body.

 

It was a privilege

to witness the first bonding stroke

on sticky red skin

to cut the cord

that had been the child’s lifeline

for months

and to hear     the first splutter

and cry.

 

It was a privilege to be with her

to share the arrival

of her daughter

and

to welcome     her own

new granddaughter.

 

c.  Kathryn Coughran

 

First published: 1994

In: Family Matters

(Kathryn Andersen)

Doing Time

She endures

long hours alone

with childish babble

nightmares     and tears

 

Isolation

but for his mother’s visits

and phone calls

 

Her bulging body

a constant reminder

of ever-increasing responsibilities

 

and of him

 

in closed cell by night

thinking of her

and dreaming music

he cannot play

 

doing without newspapers

in preference to being beaten

for the punting guide

 

and silently labouring by day

goaded by officers

with the power

to punish on a whim.

 

 c.  Kathryn Coughran

 

First published: 1994

In: Family Matters

(Kathryn Andersen)

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)