Rob Turner


Interlude (excerpt): ‘LOW HAMPTON, October 22nd 1844’

On Tuesday morning, the light rises from the east, not burning the treetops but waking the sparrows into a chorus, a requiem aeternam for the vanquished earth. The sun is seen first from the lighthouses on the Atlantic Coast, flashing against the domed mirror, and then casting the rays back against themselves. The crests of the sea roll huge onto Nantucket shore, pregnant with the day, shining cerulean, then white, then dry, as they stretch over the sand. Under the surface, cormorants shy back from the beams, seeking shade, or fish, at the kelpy bottom. Distorted by the salt haze, their vision magnifies the crabs and blue crayfish, as darting from the rocks and shale they seem to see something larger, formless but with intent, swimming up through the sand, many fathoms beneath.

Past Nantucket, Massachusetts also awakes, and the informed Millerites climb from their beds, sated with Monday night’s sleep. All along the coast, French, British and American families erect ladders alongside their houses, help one another onto the rooftops, and stand with their faces to the east, flushed with the breeze; hundreds of miniature coffee pots steaming in the sun. The whaling ships disappear into the glare, vessels capable of hooking the Leviathan dwarfed by the initial blasts of light; America – a marooned and untamed world – waits for the arrival of the sun. Waits to be deafened by the noise of a million wings, roaring like the sound of great waters, as the last of the unseen Angels swarm up from the caverns of the sea, charging over the printless sands of the West.

In Washington City, rows of cultivated linden trees duck away from the bellowing light. Cemeteries across the inland states are filled with widows and widowers, orphans and grieving mothers, waiting by familiar graves, seeking the half-smiles of the decomposed, unearthing themselves to the sound of the trumpet. In libraries and chambers across the continent, entire books are left unread, absent-minded scholars turning away from their dry volumes, like Faust before the vision of the Erdgeist, to find a text unprinted upon any page but that of the unfolding Day before them. In hospitals the unlocked windows blaze with the October sun, glowing as cathedrals, a great mass of sunlight overcoming the merry wink of the surgeon’s knife, which hovers up and away from the paused hand beneath it. The forts and barracks of the U.S. army, stretching all the way to the Rocky Mountains, are littered with weapons unclaimed, as uniformed hands shield their eyes, ranks of men reduced to thin shadows, shaking with sudden fits of apoplexy.

The light seeps right across the land, and the day breaks just before Miller half-opens his eyes. They thaw at once in the heat, chipped out of the ice that has contained his body for so long (sixty-two years), discovered and melted away by a single beam, the glacier of the Body giving way to the airy space of the Soul. All around him, the colossal forms of nearby essences disentangle themselves from their corpses, unbending into the tornadoed air above Low Hampton; the mountains, even lofty Tahawus, flatten beneath their shoulders, spiritual bodies inflating above the landscape, eyes searching beyond New York, Vermont, the ocean, the Old World... All over America, the uncaged souls of the Millerites swell into the sky, expanding vaster and growing more and more gross, more bodily as they gorge themselves upon the acres of light. Fatty spirit-clouds heave rain onto the reprobates beneath, dowsing the hellish burning with a second deluge, gallons of human fluid pouring from the distended heavens, foul-smelling, surrounding the hordes of sinners as they gaze upward with sympathetic awe. Children float on the rising sea of ammonia in makeshift vessels, tossing bottled messages into the depths, and skimming round stones from one to the next. Their shadows extend down into the fluid, moving silhouettes of boats through the abandoned and drowned cities, passing the turrets of Notre-Dame, and sailing off the Alps, into the submarine land of the Orient. Dolphin-like machines rise through the yellowing surf, before ducking under and nudging past the upturned head of the Sphinx: her buried riches float up from the tombs of the desert, bobbing through the surface, many hundreds of wooden chests and decomposing lengths of papyrus fragments. John Dowling, pastor of the Pine Street church and arch-critic of Millerism, falls away beneath the sallow tide, his face blinking with surprise as the waves cover him, like a slipped fish.

Rob was interviewed at the Salon by Michael McCluskey.