Gerald Stern’s “Behaving Like a Jew” is a short lyric poem, twenty-eight lines of free verse in one stanza. It might better be called a lyric meditation, or even an elegy. The poem opens with a simple past-tense description of the body of a dead opossum. It looked like “an enormous baby sleeping on the road.” However, the wind was blowing through its hair, making it appear lifelike, and the speaker is overcome with an overwhelming feeling of sadness, something he terms his “animal sorrow.” This is physical sorrow, expressed by the body, a genuine mourning.
The poem shifts into the present tense (“I am sick of the country”) as he laments the ever-present roadkill, the generic deaths that leave bloodstained bumpers and lifeless birds at the edge of the highway. The speaker realizes that he is unwilling to simply note this one small death and go on. He is “sick” of the spirit of Charles Lindbergh, what he calls “that joy in death, that philosophical/ understanding of carnage.” In opposition to a predominantly Christian world, he decides that he will, in effect, weep and wail, that he will treat it for what it is—the singular death of a singular living creature—without recourse to a concept of an afterlife. Beginning with the poem’s only short sentence, set off with a dash, the poet self-consciously announces what he is going to do:
—I am going to be unappeased at the...
(The entire section is 460 words.)