Mother’s Day Tribute

‘Why white chrysanthemums?’ the girl asks

and I remember asking my mother

the same question

as a child.


‘Because they are the symbol

of Mother’s Day’, I answer

as she answered me.


I feel her presence

as I spread them on the table,

mentally ask her advice

on length of stem

and size of vessel,

see her smile

as I arrange them ~

some for her and my grandmothers

one each for myself     my daughter

and daughter-in-law.


Together     they fill the cream jug

for we are all mothers.


One perfect flower

saved to stand alone

in the privacy of my room

in my favourite sculptured vase ~

a contrast of red glass

and blossoming white


in loving memory

of my mother.

c.  Kathryn Coughran (1993)

Christmas Tree Reflections

I.   Childhood (1950s)

The arrival of the tree

was almost as exciting

as Christmas Day itself.


The long wait

trips to the front door

interspersed with hopeful gazes

at the prepared bucket

on shiny linoleum.


The agonising wait

broken by the flurry

of heavy footsteps

and the thrusting

of a trunk into dirt.


A pungent prickly pine

that made me sneeze

stolen from the river bank

had found a new home

for the last days

of its life.


We watched

as older sisters

dressed it in decorations

we’d made

from silver foil bottle-tops

and cardboard ~

and those exquisite paper lanterns

my mother found on sale years earlier.


Christmas wrapping

covered the bucket

twisted red and green streamers


from lightshade to walls.


The tree

and the wood-panelled room

smiled with colour.


I smiled too:

it was just two days

until Santa’s visit

when we would leave

Christmas cake and drink

to send him on his way.


We’d wake

and ‘look, but not touch’

until Mass and breakfast were over

then presents would be handed

one by one and we’d watch

each treasure unwrapped.


Home-made second-hand

sometimes bargain-purchased


left in Santa’s name

filled our home with joy.


II.   Marriage (1970s)

In the fourth year of my marriage

when our second-born was not yet two


silver leaves on spiked branches

reached out in cold glare

I perched the ‘tree’

on metal tripod ~

soon replaced

by a bucket of dirt

for stability

and in an attempt

to hold on to childhood. 


I added balls and bells

and colourful tinsel

overseen by a gold angel

with glittering skirt

flowing almost to the floor

then sprinkled flashing lights

for effect

and in an attempt

to let go of my childhood.


Grand and sparkling

loaded with presents

for twelve years to come

this Christmas tree echoed

an artificial life:


A façade of all that is good

on the outside

empty     devoid of warmth

and crying out for recognition

on the inside.


III.  New Beginnings (1990s)

The cypress pine

in an earth-filled pot

grows taller

each year.


When too big

to retrieve from its verandah home

for the Festive Season

I’ll find a niche

in the garden

return it to nature.


The purchase of a new

potted evergreen

for future Christmases

will complete the cycle


a sound philosophy



at age six     the tree

is wilting     gasping

from days left without water

and being knocked sideways

by gusty winds

to lie flat on cement


a reflection of myself

tired and reeling

from traumatic events

piled      one on another

and another…


sapping energy

despite steady periods

in between.


It’s time

to cut the dead wood

plant the roots

in nourishing soil


feed and water tendrils

spreading in earth.


It’s time

to expel toxins

allow expansion

and growth


nurture myself     and

take control of my life


to pot

a new cypress     and

tend it with care.


c. Kathryn Coughran ~ 1994



Insidious punishment

dictates the rhythm of life

the struggle to survive

constant poverty.


He studies     starts projects

that might turn into income

but needs money     to

bring them to fruition.


Persistence brings

full-time work     elation

until     staff-cuts send him     

~ and the new suit he could ill-afford ~



The subsistence merry-go-round

swings high and wide…

years pass

short-term jobs come and go

they build their family


life will never be easy


into low-paid work with poor conditions

and long overnight shifts.


The cloud of recompense

still hovers     decades on

begging the questions…


Who pays?     and

For how long?


c. Kathryn Coughran ~ 24th January 2019



Society’s lash

cuts deep

for those who bear the scars

of doing time

at Her Majesty’s pleasure.


No chance     these days

to change the spelling or pronunciation

of a surname     as was the want

of many ancestor convicts

to separate themselves

from the rigors     of their past

when freedom finally came

after years of servitude

in this distant land…


Our young man has responsibilities

must find work…

he shops at Vinnies

covers tattoos with long sleeves

regardless of temperature

prepares a resumé

highlighting his skills

and fronts up to interviews.


‘Why have you been out of work

for so long?’ he is asked.


He tells the truth     and hears

‘We don’t employ criminals’

or     the softer version

‘I can’t risk having you on staff’.


In desperation

he skirts around probing     about

his absence from society  

and even fudges his answers…

but fools nobody

least of all himself.


Long periods of unemployment

lead to gaping holes in his work history

which bring more aggressive questions.


He is willing to work

~ wants to work ~

yet nobody will employ him     and

he continues to carry

the burden     of his misdeeds.


Is this freedom   

or merely release     to a world

riddled with judgement

and inherent restrictions?


  • c. Kathryn Coughran
  • 24th January 2019


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


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)



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.




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


the pressing need

to find new lodgings.




They plan a future

studded with achievement

make promises

they cannot keep.


Unemployment hinders


with unerring power.

The foundations of their dreams


anger     and the demon drink

edge in.


They move house

again     and again


then separately.


c.  Kathryn Coughran


First published: 1994

In: Family Matters

(Kathryn Andersen)



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.




Unexplained cancellation

of promised day leave

anticipation     and anxiety

cause final days to drag.




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


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


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



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


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.




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)