Polly Brody
 Photo: Charles Brody 

As the title of Polly Brody’s third book suggests, the poet portrays both the darkness of life and its heart-stirring beauty. Dire death and a variety of other cruelties are graphically described in Stirring Shadows, but equally vivid are the possibilities of love, redemption, mercy, and resurrection. In the first section of the book, the voracious raptor Life takes many forms, from red-toothed nature to insane and drunken parents, the libidinous lord of a manor, a tyrannical husband, a rapacious government... In the book’s second section, the godly grandeur of the natural world is suggested in lines like these: “Moonlight through the skin/ of a bat’s stretched wing...” Brody shows that catastrophe can be the mother of beauty, as when the “Little Ice Age” in Europe begot the tight-ringed wood that begot the “sweetest voice” of the Stradivarius violin. The third section of Stirring Shadows shows that Death shall have no dominion. In one poem, the poet’s elderly mother, though in the last stages of life, retains her passion for wild things: she calls her daughter to describe a doe that came to her “upon its dainty, pronged hooves” and stretched its neck to eat the carefully quartered apples she held out. The mother becomes the doe herself when on her death bed she savors the slice of an apple proffered by her daughter: “Crescent by sweet crescent,/ her mouth receives this balm.” And indeed, it is balm that the Polly Brody offers us in this stirring collection which ends with three remarkable poems. In the first two, a granddaughter becomes both a solace—when she “slide[s] into being/ as if from ready Milkweed pod”—and then a resurrection of sorts. The poet likens her aging self to a dead tree’s branches that will become part of an ongoing younger tree which “will clasp firm those dead arms/ in living heartwood.” Stirring Shadows ends with a memorable catharsis when the zoologist poet compares herself to a bee (Apis mellifera) that in its dying finds “a golden resting place” ensconced in “the lemon heart of a Chrysanthemum.”

  Cover: Kie

About this remarkable book, Susan Deborah King, the author of One-Breasted Woman, has commented as follows: “In Stirring Shadows, Polly Brody looks with an unflinching eye upon many kinds of darkness: evil, illness, loss, betrayal, separation, death and, in language that is sure, searing, lyrical, and spare, cracks the safe of these hard realities for the gold cached within them. While possessing a singular affinity with the natural world and a visionary consciousness, Brody’s voice is marked by keen observation, uncommon compassion, astringent insight and peerless transformative power. These poems, by zeroing in and plumbing depths, soar.”

Polly Brody received a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Mount Holyoke College, and after returning to school in mid-life, earned a Masters Degree in Biology from Southern Connecticut State University. A resident of Southbury, Connecticut, she has traveled extensively in Europe, East Africa, Australia and South America. As a biologist and experienced field ornithologist, she lectures on animal behavior and has created seminars on that subject. She has been an active advocate for the environment, and while chairing the Newtown Conservation Commission, she helped preserve 790 acres of prime woodland. Polly Brody is the author of three earlier collections: Other Nations, The Burning Bush, and At the Flower’s Lip. She has been published in many literary journals and in 1998 was a finalist in the New Millennium Writings competition. Her poems have twice received the Winchell Award from the Connecticut Poetry Society, and she placed first in the 2005 Connecticut River Review Contest. In 2006 Polly was awarded third place in the national competition sponsored by Friends of Acadia, judged by Wesley McNair. She has been a presenting poet in the New England Foundation for the Humanities series, “After Frost: Poetry in New England,” and has read widely throughout Connecticut and New York.

To view Polly Brody’s other Antrim House books, click onThe Burning Bush and At the Flower’s Lip. For a televised appearance on SCTV, cllick here.

Click here to read sample poems.Click here to see/hear a full reading on SCTV.
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ISBN 978-0-9823970-3-9
Copyright © 2009 by Polly Brody

Length: 72 pages, 6" x 9" paperback



on its smooth glide path—
shadow that took hold
of the air,

has fastened itself
to silence,
closed its taloned grip on a branch
obscure among branches,

waits above,
slowly craning its neck
making no sudden movements,
keeping its red eye on the feeders.

A presence made known
by absence:

my patio, bare of sparrows,
bare of the ruffian jays.
A woodpecker clutches immobility
against the dogwood’s trunk.

Raptor hush—
the feathered world won’t twitch or twitter
until that shadow slides off
carrying its hunger out
across the valley.


Wreckage juts
angular bones
no longer hot,
but yesterday’s white blast
carbonized flesh and steel.

This book survived
soft-covered, its pages graced
with flowing inscriptions of Arabic—
a book of poems.
On a dune’s shoulder it lies,
wind lifting its pages,
a random leafing.

A tank, ripped open, leans
above the book. A day ago it bore
three frightened Basra boys
within its clanking womb.
It gapes in silence absolute
above these pages riffling.


Six years old,
she has been told many times
how refined and high-bred,
how desirable are the golden lilies.
She has seen her father’s mother,
her aunties, her older sister,
her mother walk mince-gaited
teetering gracefully on lacquered platforms.

Mother and grandmother come
bringing long strips of cloth.
Willingly she lays her chubby foot
upon the binding stool.

They wind cloth
over her toes and behind her heel,
pulling each little foot
into a closed bud,
tight as the child can bear.

Relentless pressure will deform the arch:
forced into artful sculpture,
flat of heel and ball of foot
grow vertical.

Years bound,
now she sways, as graceful as any,
will never go a distance,
taking tiny steps
will run nowhere.


No longer than
my thumb’s last joint,
you wince as my scissors cut
that hosta stem you grasp.
I see your beige tremble,
just before the blind blades reach you,
and am glad.
Gently, I lift
both stem and you
away from the obscuring plant;
your shadowy vale is lost
to a drench of sunlight,
yet you cling in stillness
save for your soft sides pulsing.
Tiny suede-skinned being
entire even to your toes,
each with its minute spatula
adhering you—
adhering you to whatever
is to come.


Sleek hulks glide, dark
beneath a skim of water
to port and starboard, and below our bow.
When wet mammalian heads breach
we hear a gasping paugh!
then air drawn hissing
down the gaping blowholes.
The whales sound, one after the other,
and sea grows still
but petrels fret above,
watchful in the air.
Now a surge and roil wells,
slate-blue depths turn brilliant teal.
Silver flashes boil up, bait fish
netted in a thrumming whirl
of clamorous bubbles and singing froth.
Leviathan breath so overwhelms
their auditory flanks,
they’re shocked from sense.
I would like to think
their frantic reel to surface
a sort of ecstasy—
to die in such a vortex,
such incandescent turquoise splendor.


Each year’s growth ring, cramped and narrow,
forced their heartwood’s fiber denser, tighter—
those spruce, sun-starved, shocked,
endured the hammer of a frost-seared age.
Boreal cold gripped Europe,
fostering glacial creep downslope
from tundra to treeline.
Icy aprons whited-out the green.
Through seven decades of long winters,
parsimonious summers,
forests put on tensioned growth.

In their chilled ateliers,
Cremonese masters crafted violins
from this stressed wood—
instruments of tone superior to any other.
They believed it was their own fine handiwork
that rang so sweetly in salons and courts
but in truth, it was the wood,
its voice and timbre of travail
that sang, and seized the heart.


I walk once more with you, mother,
along this dirt road
thirty years familiar,
skirting pasture and woodlots.
The in-your-face maples
have lost grip on scarlet and flame.
Oaks bring out vintage burgundy,
distillation so deep, its reds
seem to glimmer into black light.
Preceding us, a progression of flushes—
juncos and whitethroats disturbed
from breakfast on poison-ivy berries—
and we slow our pace even more
than your arthritis demands,
so their alarms may be muted.
Then you stop.
About us, the small bustle of birds.
Pish-pish, pish-pish you whisper,
and they come up from bushes, weed margins.
Between us a prayer suspends,
ambiguous as cobwebs not yet defined by dew:
May you go like this,
flutter of downy woodpecker at your breast,
ruby-crowned kinglet’s d-jeet in your ear.


She is withering.
Sunken cheeks clearly reveal
the orbital rims’ concave bows,
and her dear eyes, still Mother,
are encased in wrinkled skin.
She is puckering
like sun-dried fruit.
Her flavor intensifies
like sun-dried fruit.

I duck my head to kiss
a cheek once level with mine.
Each night I think of her
laid out in her single bed,
arthritic hip grumbling
its unceasing discomfort.
Mother will hoist that painful hip
up the side door’s inconvenient stairs
lest she disturb the phoebe
nesting by her kitchen entrance.
My mother, even now,
will stop to lift a turtle from the road.

Today she telephones, to tell me
how a small black doe has come
each morning, to browse windfall apples:
how she has softly gone outside,
sweet-talking, tossing quartered apples—
easier to mouth than slippery round ones—
and how today, the small black deer
with smooth-skinned cheeks
and long-lashed, liquid eyes,
has come step by step
upon its dainty, pronged hooves,
to stretch its supple neck
and take the apples from her hand.


Sleeping Beauty came into the world
welcomed by fairies,
each offering her vision
of virtue or grace.
Like them, I’m dreaming you:
walking beside me, glad
to discover Queen Anne’s purple mote
deep-centered in lace, delighted
by butter-winged Swallowtails
touching down atop thistles.
Paths lead us to Bloodroot,
unclasping leafy sails,
and gently irreverent, we may
tip up Jack’s pulpit.
I tune your ear to Titmouse whistles,
to teacher, teacher chants of Ovenbirds.

Desires unfurl toward you
as fiddleheads uncurl to fern,
offering, safe from baneful briar,
my landscapes
to your opening eyes, your waking ears.

Innocent of dream-spells,
you slide into being
as if from ready Milkweed pod
delivering silken novas, silver to the air.

Apis mellifera

This chilled November morning,
the sun’s light, wan and frosted,
finds her head-down,
burrowing, legs in slow motion
pumping her tighter
against the lemon heart
of a Chrysanthemum.
Does she hope there to escape
stasis, awaiting her
with boreal patience?
Transparent wings
glued now to her fuzzed back,
will lift her no more into air
gelid with winter’s breath.
Yet she has found at least
a golden resting-place.
May my last bed
be as bright.

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