I suppose the Cailleach – a word which seems to imply equally “old woman” or “young girl” – will probably be known to most who are up with their Celtic folklore, which I’m not. I can’t actually remember how the word sprang into my mind but assume I must have read it somewhere. The Lady in the Water, ever so slightly clunky as some of Shamayalan’s tend to be, is nonetheless inevitably one of my favourite stories in the world of film.


The Cailleach

She said I’d not see her again
and though I did not recall
having seen her before, what a blow
her words seemed to bring, as if
at the departure of an old friend.

She’d been hidden in the Loanhead stone
but now, as it leaned towards
a toppling point, it was time to go
the purpose served, the doorway
to a new time finally opened.

Only once before, as I walked
with my dead grandmother
along the Tayfirth shore
could I say I’d caught that same
glimpse, never guessing it might be her.

An old woman, for sure
her mantle pulled up to her chin
but the wizened face a kind of frame
through which a young one
scarcely through her teens

gazed out, holding my gaze
– she’d have held anyone’s gaze! –
with a look almost reproachful –
that I’d seen? or that I might failed to guess
she was there, in that disguise?

That was what I saw, and if
I’ve offended, offended either
the old or the young, I humbly
beg pardon, even knowing
I might have to pay with my life.


The Lady in the Water

She was called Story, and she still is
but oh my dear that dress was never meant to get stained
that shirt that never even covered up her modesty
no storymaker worthy of the name
would ever have set mark on that sunbleached
undyed hemp, he put it on her for respect
and because she was shivering, though
not cold. The writer-man, the ripper-man
had no place there, no place at all.

I never understood how you could sleep so much
I never understood how I was going wrong
that I could go wrong, that there was a right
and a wrong way to things. Call it
arrogance if you like, it was never meant.
Not until I glimpsed the lost
faces again, heard the lost voices
of those I left abandoned, with my head high
not till then, oh my dear, and not till then

would I understand the reason for your sleep
why I could never waken you. So the prints
have been running crisscross, through the dewy grass
across the smooth floor, the water
taken from the one, left on the other, all askew.
I never asked this oh my dear, but can the water
now wash the sheets clean, can you raise your head
break surface again, can we
start another Story?


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