When it comes to God, there are a lot of “what if’s.”
Across the ages, people have wondered, “What if God is female?” and “What if God’s skin is black or brown?” and “What if God looks nothing like a human at all?”
In his poem “Adirondack Moosehead,” Jeffrey Harrison takes it to another level. After many a summer in an Adirondack cabin, he begins to wonder about the moosehead hanging over the great stone fireplace. In what ways could a moosehead, of all things, remind one of God?
Poetry-Writing Basic #1: Stare at anything — anything — long enough, and strange thoughts will begin to browse at the edge of your field. Let’s look at this particular narrator’s logic:
by Jeffrey Harrison
The moose that once presided over games
of Monopoly and crazy eights,
that loomed above us, goofy and majestic,
into whose antlers we threw paper planes,
still hangs over the great stone fireplace
like the figurehead of a ship.
All these years he hasn’t flicked an eyelash
in response to anything we’ve done,
and in that way resembles God,
whom, as children, we imagined looking down
but didn’t know how to visualize. A moose
over the altar would have been
as good as anything—better than a cross—
staring down on us with kind dark eyes
that would have seemed, at least, to understand,
his antlers like gigantic upturned hands
ready to lift us off the ground—
or like enormous wings outspread for flight.
© 2006 by Jeffrey Harrison, from The Names of Things, The Waywiser Press, Chipping Norton, U.K.
In stanza two, we see that the moosehead’s indifference to “anything we’ve done” first inspires the narrator’s comparison. Then he shifts to childhood, to a kid’s struggle to picture something so abstractly awe-inspiring as God looking down. The moosehead, then, provides a ready image riding (without legs) to the rescue: “staring down on us with kind dark eyes / that would have seemed, at least, to understand.”
And why not? The antlers look “like gigantic upturned hands / ready to lift us off the ground— / or like enormous wings outspread for flight.”
Look at something long enough—even a flea-infested moosehead—and certain Christian images (hands, wings) will begin to elbow their ways in. Like antlers. Like a glowing halo over his long-deceased head.
Bullwinkle would be proud.