Artist Statement:

Mike Soares, writer and
high school teacher and father
Back to ISU

Three children at home
Isaac, Alex, and Abbie
Fifteen, seven, five

Grew up near Boston
Then to Chicago suburbs
Now in Bloomington

First comes family
Second the love for learning
Professor some day

 

 

 

Arise

Michael Soares


He remembered when the cloths binding his face loosened.


That part of him which had escaped pulled back into him and the dream that had felt so real dissipated and was forgotten. Light came to his eyes and hands were on him and he felt the harshness of the dry and brittle air on his face.


Muffled words resounded more clearly and seized him from within.


He could not avert, could not disobey. Pulled from the dream light to the tepid earthly taper. Pulled into the frightened and astonished stares of those around him as the wraps fell finally from his face and he stepped free from the hands around him.


“Arise.”


A silhouette from the haze of sun approached with extended hands. Not to him, but to the mother – haggard, wretched, afraid.


Desperate to believe, the mother in turn reached fragile hands toward him and touched his newly warmed face – caresses cementing him as the last dredges of what had been drifted away.


Standing rescinded.


The face of the unseen in the silhouette and haloed by the sun turned without another word – the voice seared into him never to be shed.


*


The pull is irresistible. I can’t hold back. Where I am fades and dissipates. Already my mind sheds its memory. The call hurtles me backward and into myself – back into that part I had left. Trading one light for another dusty light. And then I open my eyes.


They stand there astonished, amazed, appalled, afraid. The wrapping falls from my face and the shroud loosens in my stiff awkward movement. Glare fades from my eyes and I can seem them more clearly. I share their confusion and I understand their revulsion. When I feel their elation my understanding escapes and I falter, stepping back into outstretched arms and tripping over my cloths. I am held by hands not my own and feel their pull as they each seek to own me.


He who spoke to me steps forward and I do not recognize the face. He stands among them and apart as a prophet. He stands by the widow and faces me. His voice filters compassion and force.
“Arise.” He had commanded and I had obeyed, unable to do otherwise. The crowd braying in fear and in praises of the prophet as I stand raw like new skin.

*

A girl had been asleep and now she was awake. I stole from the city and the widow in the cold night and traveled far to see the girl. She played there among other children in the open yard tossing warm stones into a clay jar. Never away were the eyes of those had brought the girl before the prophet and watched her awaken. As long as the girl was here she would be watched, by those who loved her and those who were afraid of her. Still others curious would come to cast glances and seek understanding before they were bustled away by those surrounding the girl.


His brain boiled with questions


*


She said nothing and played intently. Her small eyebrows narrowing in concentration as she move and shaped the sand.


Stick in hand she moved the shapes back and forth, creating and destroying in each stroke.


He stayed until the eyes around had left her and he lowered himself and spoke to her through an opening in the stone wall surrounding the yard.


*


In the light that was now a dream, he had not been able to look back towards himself or the widow. Before he left the widow he had sensed her desperation and misery, and then resignation, as he pulled away from her. Unable to see he cried out to her knowing no sound would reach her. Forward he approached the dream light.


The dream remained a hazy fragment. Shapes had been there as well as sounds. He remembered a sensation like a cool breeze passing by him and through him, drawing him further in.


He remembered being immersed and felt himself dissipate, indistinguishable. He was there some time.


And then the voice.

*

The voice held him still and stopped his momentum. The breeze ended and the backward movement began. The hazy dream light retracted and streamed from the corners of his vision.


*

I clawed forward to grasp at the haze and dream light. I remember that I wanted to stay, wanted that breeze and absorption. I felt afraid. I was afraid to be the widow’s son again. And I fought the voice. I remember that.


“Arise.”


I opened my eyes again to a haze but the dream light was gone. Staleness filled my nostrils and I retched, unable to breathe from my covered mouth. Gagged, I tried to scream “No” or “Help” or “Mother.” I thought all three at once. In my ears and my head only two syllables resounded, the word which had commanded me and plunged me back here.


“Arise.”


*

Descended and disconnected.

Bereft.

 

The widow’s son mourns the loss, mourns his reprieve.

 

Answers are absent as the dream light, terrible knowledge just out of grasp, a gift thrust upon him.

 

Searing.


Pardoned and damned at once. And tossed aside.


*

Night.


He roughly lowered the stranger and pulled the dirty rope from the dead man’s throat. Pulling aside the dingy robes his fingers moved across the corpse, detecting and seizing. Coins taken from the stranger slipped into his warm pockets, the dingy robes left open for buzzards. The widow’s son passed into the shadows.

*

People I know steal for food. Others for excitement. The time I stole was because I thought I could, but when I faltered I committed murder.


My father had been a poor man. An honest man. And the tax collector of Nain tried to steal from him. When my father refused to pay more than he owed the tax collector ordered the centurions to arrest him. He was crucified as a thief. And I became the widow’s son.


I grew up and as a young man I thought to rob the tax collector. He would never know who I was, never remember the young boy screaming as the soldiers took his father. He would never know I was the thief’s son and then the widow’s son. He would never see me at all.


At night I circled him as he walked and I held shadows as he passed by. I could smell his brine and quick shallows of breathing as he trundled by. I held myself to the darkness.


The street grew quiet and the tax collector of Nain shuffled past a cluster of homes and near the ravine is where I emerged, rope in hands, his blood money to be taken from him.


He fought me with vigor undetectable beneath his layers of robe and flesh and I faltered.


Descending upon me, his breath seared with wine, his hands found my throat and clasped. Unable to breathe and sweat blinding me I struggled back.


My hands came together and in my fists was the rope. His disgusting white neck in the rope. And my fists clenched until the rope was quiet and the night was still again.


And I robbed the man who murdered my father.


*

The man with the two sisters sat quietly inside the wall of the well looking down. Periodically women would draw up buckets and transfer the contents to warm clay jars. Travelers would bring up water for camels and mules and send the buckets down once more. The repeated splash did not disturb the man. The man with two sisters did not look up to acknowledge.


I watched him for some time.


When I approached him he did not look at me. I sat inside the wall of the well, feet dangling, hands on each side supporting hunched shoulders.


“He loved you?” I asked.

 

He nodded.

 

“He loved you and brought you back.” No question this time.

 

Nodded.

 

“He didn’t know me.” Not even my name. So I thought.

 

For the first time the man with two sisters saw me, the widow’s son.

 

Squinting.

 

“The dream light?” he asked me.

 

“Why?” I threw back at him.

 

He shrugged. “He loved me.” Again.

 

We stared down the length of the well. Far below, a still glass reflected our tiny
faces. Beside me a traveler plunged the bucket below.

 

The glass was broken.


*

“What did the voice say to you?” he asked the girl who had been asleep. ”The voice?”

 

“Talitha, cumi.” Her eyes did not waiver.

 

“Arise.”

 

“He called me little girl.”

 

“He told you to arise.”

 

“It’s a secret.”

 

Secret poorly kept. Rumors swept on the desert wind brought me here. To the girl
who had been asleep and was now awake. I leaned forward, my hands steadying me, the air arid and breaking clean on my skin. Setting sun drifting her shadow into mine.


I leaned in. Vision of the dream light casting me forward.

 

“Secret?”

 

The girl who was awake turned. In her face was the secret and the voice. The secret held me as the voice did.

 

“Why?”

“It’s a secret” repeated the girl who was awake. “He said it was a secret.” Fades of the dream light in her eyes, the secret held in a child’s memory.


I remained and searched her face for a hint.


Another voice called, a mother’s voice. The girl summoned inside as the cooling air preceded nightfall. I departed empty except for guilt and the pull of the voice.


The widow’s son, the murderer, alone.

*

I watched from afar.

 

The skull-hill thick with observers and mockers.

 

And soldiers.

 

And mothers.

 

The widow now dead and buried handsomely from coins taken from her husband’s accuser.

 

In the air is scent and taste of blood. Horrors of the hanging three too horrible to behold, too horrible to look away.

 

I stand transfixed in fear, in regret.

 

In envy.

 

The man to the side hangs for my crime, as I understand. Murderer and thief, his crimes are many. My crime blends with his.

 

Nevertheless, he hangs for my crime and the death of the tax collector sinks the
nails into his wrists.

*

The murderer thief hanged with the prophet and exchanged words I could not hear. To the other side another thief laughed harshly and spit. Dark red hardly ejecting, stopping on his beard.


Derisive flow stopped short in agony.


Clouds gathered and the daylight lessened. The skull-hill focused and contracted in the dim. The sky became dark.


A still moment.

 

Then trembling.

 

Something was finished.

*

The dream light gone and in the haze those around come into focus. My hands gain integrity, gripping and plucking the cloths from my eyes. From my mouth.


I try to speak, over the voice, and falter. The weight of death still on my lungs.


Through cough and gurgle I say something, anything, sound strangling out incoherent, no meaning.

 

No one is listening anyway.

 

The sounds acknowledged. The words unrecorded.

 

And why I was brought forth stays with the dream light.


*

He walked among the crowd, a mother close at hand.

 

Disbelievers probing scars.

 

The voice pulled strongly and I stood apart.

 

Of the hanging three there was now one, walking among us.

 

His voice had pulled me backward. He now walked with us here. The crowd
disheveled with three days mourning stood astonished, amazed, appalled, afraid. Elated. The elation escaped me.


I approached the prophet, the dream light dancing in eyes and on robes. The glory of the forward motion blurring my eyes.


Like a leper I grabbed the robe and the memory of the dream light surfaced.

 

He turned to face me.

 

The question came and was asked.

 

No sound left my throat.

 


His answer came.

 


“Arise.”

 

Compassion and force.

 


The voice filled me, hem of the robe dropped from my hand.

 

The crowd swelled creating a distance.


*

The end.

 


I coughed and moved my hand. Blood smeared across my face. Staring down at the soft-mirror bowl I saw the end. It was yellow and red.


The command which had thrummed so strongly had lately faded, the echoes stopped short and pulling no longer. It was close.


More wracking and when I could huddle no longer I lifted myself upwards and away then sitting. I cleaned my face from a fresh bowl. When the water stilled it reflected a yellow face tinted with scarlet.


The widow had gone, long ago replenishing the fields, generations of grain dispersed through the decades. My world had evaporated in time and all who had been then were one with the desert, their only record a footnote in the story of the prophet, their only memory perched on the ledge of my dying mind. All I had now was the desert.

 


Except for the vestiges of the voice. The voice hummed weak yet constant.


*

In the end I had gotten my answer. At the conclusion, what had escaped me was in reach and I clasped at it, my hands autonomous, coming to together like they had at the throat of my father’s executioner.


Time was leaking away.

*

Prostrate.

 

Fetid.

 

Disintegration implicit in every movement.

 

The voice now a whisper, the dream light within reach. The prophet now a tingling, the call forward in the bare luminous dawn. Dissolving stars and a secret nearly within grasp.


A lifetime renewed to search once more fading from the tepid earthy taper.

 

The pull backward gone, the voice receded.

 


Shallow breathing testing the arid air for purchase.

 

And for resolution.

*

The voice and the secret are the same. The words of the murder thief exchanged with the prophet merge.


In the dream light the answer possessed him.


It was never for the widow’s son.

 

Nor the girl who had been asleep.

 

Or the man with two sisters.

 

The one of the three had lived the answer, before and after the doubter’s scars,
and on the cusp of the dream light he understood.

 

The secret


The prophet’s answer.

 

It had been for the widow

 

And the sisters

 

And the household of Jarius.

 


The elusive secret for which they had been brought back.

 

Now answered.

 

Sacrifice.

 

Now his burden to accept. Called forward once more in spite of his guilt. To forfeit death and life for others.

 

*
 


Thinned by ages

 

Arisen and faded

 


A voice stilled. Escape.

 


Today in paradise

 

... carried once more and forever toward the dream light.


*

He stood apart.

 

Watched from afar.

 

The prophet prostate.

 

Sweating blood.

 

“Take this from me. Take this from me.”

 


The voice thrumming strong, the pull

 


In the garden was the answer escaping the widow’s son for a second lifetime.

 

The answer in cup not able to be passed.

 

Horizon not recanted.

 


Despite the multitudes, despite possessing the voice, despite the secret of the prophet.

 


He was alone.

 


And waiting to arise.

Euphemism Campus Box 5555 Illinois State University Normal, IL 61790