Excerpt from a work in progress: ‘Open Your Life Wide, and Take Me in Forever’

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steamboat

 

 

‘My family, as do all of yours, goes back.’ Melville said. ‘My father never tired of reminding me of our royal ancestors in Scotland and Normandy but we have been here since the first waves of colonists landed and we all call ourselves Americans and gaze with unwarranted condescension upon any newcomers. The truth is that we are all newcomers. The original Americans are its Indians and they are still its most authentic custodians.’

 

         ‘But they are not Christians.’ Said Emily with a malicious smile.

         ‘For me, being a Christian,’ said Hawthorne ‘is simple: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.”’

         ‘But what might it mean to be pure of heart?’ She asked.

 

         The stern’s upper deck where they were gathered was made from finely varnished wooden boards and a white canvas awning stretched over them keeping the airy salon in shade. A gull flew along with them, hovering for a spell before veering off, shoreward, then coming to a fluttery rest upon a gentle swell.

 

         ‘I’d like to think any Wampanoag native waking in the shelter of a wild blueberry shrub is pure of heart – or was …’ Melville said. He paused and looked at Emily directly. ‘I’d go as far as to say that you Miss Dickinson are pure of heart. Have you seen God?’

         Hawthorne jumped in. ‘You see, he is the anti-Christ after all – pronouncing one blasphemy after the other.’

         Melville smiled but ignored the comment and repeated his question. ‘Have you seen God Emily?’

 

         It was the first time he had called her that and it cut her to the quick – catching her once again unprepared. It was as if the organ that was her heart, pure or otherwise and apart from its own rhythmic pulsations, skipped to the side of its own accord. To mask the feeling she turned from him and from the rest of them, placing her hands upon the railing and looked down at the water of Mt. Hope Bay. Then she looked over her shoulder and answered him.

 

         ‘I wonder if perhaps I might be seeing Him right now.’

         Her brother made the connection immediately.

         ‘My sister has never seen salt water before. She has never been on a boat or ship.’

         She turned around.

         ‘I’m just a local girl gentlemen, an Amherst maiden unaccustomed to any body of water larger than Lake Warner in North Hadley. I am overwhelmed.’

         ‘Then what you are seeing now is but the Archangel Gabriel,’ said Melville, ‘God you will see later, just before the evening meal once we’ve left Newport and are out on the open sea a bit before setting a course through the more sheltered sound of Long Island.’

         ‘There you go, blaspheming again.’ Said Hawthorne. ‘I too have the greatest respect for the oceans Melville but to call it ‘God’ …’

         ‘I think he means – it is certainly what I meant,’ said Emily in a meek tone, ‘is that the wonder of the seas reflects the majesty of God.’

         ‘Well put sister.’

         ‘I can agree with that.’ Said Hawthorne. ‘But is that what you meant Herman?’

         ‘My God hath not long flowing hair or any resemblance to mankind at all. That presumptuous fantasy for me is a form of blasphemy.’

         ‘Your God is your great white whale,’ Hawthorne said, ‘a massive creature filled with vengeance.’

         ‘God,’ Melville replied, ‘whatever that word really means, is to my mind, not only a reflection of nature’s wonders but nature herself, all of it, the living and the dead, all that crawls, and swims, and grows from the soil and sand and all that simply exists upon the earth inanimate and immovable.’

         Austin took flight.

         ‘I believe the term for a man of your beliefs is ‘pantheist’. You are an adherent of ‘pantheism’. It has a noble tradition, going back to the Greeks.’

         ‘I’ll settle for that.’ Said Melville. ‘If only to put an end to anymore discussion about religion.’

         ‘Amen.’ Said Emily.