by Michael Woods
The poet remembers the fact that she was born with a caul over her head and that it was sold to a sailor as a lucky talisman. She reflects upon the implications of this.
Carol Ann Duffy was born with a caul, that is to say a part of the amniotic sac over her head. Such a phenomenon is considered lucky in popular folklore, something that would protect against drowning. To some extent, then, it is clear that the poem is autobiographical. It is also the case that Duffy's caul was sold to a sailor, someone who would be keen to avoid drowning. Here, it is worth remembering that it is sometimes admissible to equate the 'I' of the poem with the poet and not necessarily take what is usually the sensible and intelligent precaution of treating the use of the first person singular pronoun as an assumed persona.
The word 'caul' is all that is left as far as the poet is concerned. The thing is signifies has long gone. The poet wonders what the caul must be like many years on, musing that 'I'm all that's left of then.' The thing is full of associative cargo, it 'spools itself out like a film' indicating that an object is capable of ramifying through the years and assuming great significance both in the sense that it clearly became a talisman for someone else, whilst simultaneously assuming 'living' significance for the poet. Duffy concentrates on the caul as a part of speech, a 'living noun'. This confers a vital and personal association on it and invites the reader to identify with the poet's sense of affinity with a part of herself which is, paradoxically, not part of her any longer in its being the bought property of a superstitious sailor.