Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Beneath the Veil

Warning: if you've been a friend for a while, you can just go on back to whatever you were doing before the Mayan Apocalypse. You've read this already, since I post it every birthday.

A little background: I was born on December 21. When I was born, my face was covered by a thin veil of skin commonly called a caul. According to legends, children born with a caul are supposed to have psychic powers. That's the autobiography behind the poem. The rest is pure fiction set in the Appalachian hills. *My father is a truly wonderful man whom I love fiercely (just so you know).


Her father strayed from home again that night,
So neighbors took her mother to give birth
And waited for the errant man to come
And watched the snow that piled upon the earth.

That winter night was shortest of them all,
When caul-born child was laid upon the breast
Of woman filled with sorrow and with woe
For husband gone and child aborn unblessed.

The doctor said there’s nothing for concern,
That babies born with covered heads are fine.
He skinned the child of soft, encircling womb
And cut the cord and tied it off with twine.

A child so born had once been thought a boon
To ships that sailed to lands upon the waves,
And sailors paid a fortune for the skin
That kept them from the depths of watery graves.

But when her father learned that she had borne
A veil that hid a face with dark black eyes,
As black as dirt of coal upon his hands,
He hawked onto the snow and made a sign.

“Protect me from the evil eye,” he said,
“Of babies who can steal your dreams at night
And take the sleep from out your lonesome bed
And fill your waking days with fear and fright.”

“Doc should have let her stay there in her bag
To drink that water where she learnt to swim.
He should have left her to the will o’ God
And left us to enjoy the peace o’ Him.”

Yet as a child is wont to do, she grew,
A strange and somber fairy child, they said,
And every night before she went to sleep,
She turned her mind upon their loathsome bed.

The child brought forth beneath the wintry sky,
The shortest day and evening of the year,
Born safe within a lonely veiled cocoon,
Sent mother all her joy, to father -- fear.

With passing of the years the girl grew fond
Of rambling in the hills to learn the ways
Of women who could cut a willow twig
Or blow out fire or take a wart away.

But as she hunted ginseng root for tea
To make a heart beat strong or heal a wound,
She always thought of him whose thought that day
Was that she was the twig who should be pruned.

Her stature grew in magic and in art;
She bent their use according to her will.
To those in need she gave what help she could,
But unto him who bred her -- only ill.

One day as she was digging by the stream
That ran behind the tipple for the coal,
She felt the hair arise upon her neck
And knew that nearby lurked an evil soul.

She heard his jaunty song before she saw
The man of heart much blacker than the seam;
She hid herself from him among the reeds
And willed him to the depths to meet his dream.

He felt the pull of water and of thirst
And need to wash the coal dirt from his hands,
So down he stooped there on the river’s edge
And looked through swirling water to the sands.

Beneath the water’s twist he seemed to see
A babe within a bubble all encased
That moved beyond the reach of his long arms
But strained toward him for watery embrace.

He stretched his arms to grasp the thing he saw,
Said, “Eyes play tricks on me, I know, this day;
Or clouds have come to shadow out the sun
And hide the things of sense from sight away.”

The sand beneath his feet beside the stream
Began to fall then shift and then to run,
And up from out the reeds his daughter rose,
The one whose face was hidden from the sun.

He saw that face reflected in the pool;
Her eyes there darker than the darkest coal
That stained his mind and filled his evil heart,
The waterchild that sucked at his black soul.

He turned and clawed with hands for purchase there
But pulled away the film of soft, smooth skin,
A shimmer that had covered fine dark hair
And held the heart that he had scorned within.

He fell beneath the eddies of the waves
That washed the black of coal from off his face,
And in a bubbled caul he sailed away
Cradled by the fairy child’s embrace.


  1. Well I didn't go away and yes I read it last year and loved the rhythm then as now and the story as well and on top o' that I hope that this year 12/21 is the best day of the year just passed for you Karen and the worst one of the year ahead.

    Be Well woman of the water and caul.

    1. That's a great wish, Mark. Thank you, and I wish the same for you.

  2. I love this story! I can just hear it sung around a campfire at night...

    Happy early birthday!

  3. I saw this for the first time, Karen! Happy Birthday, early as it is! An exhaustive 'rendition' and just as relevant to the ensuing year! A cauled baby you're blessed!


  4. Wow. I feel blessed to know one of the caul babies. You have inspired a story.

    The Witch's Husband

    When I married you
    your mother told me the truth
    and my dreams for us
    changed because of that.

    Your father sat back and hemmed
    and hawed and he chewed
    his cud like cattle
    will, like your cattle still do
    today. I hear the sound
    of them shifting by
    and of him hawking, spitting
    into his brassy bowl.

    And for you, I sigh,
    and thank the stars for your fey
    heart, your devotion.

    1. Ah, Christopher, it has been quite a while since you've dropped a poem here. It makes me smile to know that we can inspire one another to creation!

      Thank you.

  5. Wow, Karen, what an intriguing tale you have told here. I was very relieved to read your notes at the end that this was not your father. You drew the characters here so well, I could see them. The closing was a very satisfying end to the story. Impeccable rhythm and rhyme, too. Well done!

    1. Thanks, Sherry. I guess you know that I'm usually not so long-winded, but this story seemed to tell itself.

      Not my dad at all...he's still one of the most fun and funny people I know (at age 88)!

  6. This is as impressive a ballad as I've read - so many fall short in keeping up the momentum and rhythm but this is perfect. And what a tale to cool the blood and kick-start the primal imagination. I love the blend of folk-lore and mysticism, and the exceptionally well-formed characters.

    1. I think I've said before how much your regard means to me, and so I thank you for coming here and reading and for your very nice comments.

  7. I just love this, Karen. I hope you have a wonderful holiday!

  8. I just loved this narrative! Such vivid characters you created. Happy Birthday!

  9. dang, no i am the one with poem envy...smiles...fantastic pacing and storytelling is top notch...a bit of magic and a shiver or two along the way...really well done karen...