A day in Washington, DC

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington, DC.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington, DC.

A day in Washington, DC

If tears could water
seeds, then gardens
would grow from sorrow;
and roses, perfect roses,
peace roses,
compassion flowers,
would flower in every season.

Like climbing plants
refreshed by rain
reach up to the sky
begging for the sun,
but instead fall down to hell.
Thousands of faces accuse,
tell stories
but leave out the endings.
I carry an identification card
of a little girl
buried somewhere,
perhaps in ashes spread
upon unfamiliar ground
where her feet never walked.
Shoes piled upon shoes,
locks of hair stuffed in bags
with locks of hair.
There is profit in hair
and stolen possessions.
And stolen lives.
The hair holds stories,
old white hair and young brown hair,
men’s hair and women’s hair,
gay, straight,
hair of the rabbi, hair of the layman,
hair of the Jew and the Communist,
whiskers of the Roma and the scholar,
the rich and the poor,
the erudite and the unlearned.
Hair falls down below the shoes,
and teardrops fall on naked feet.

Hewed from a mountain of injustice
he planted seeds of equality. He speaks to us still,
urging love to conquer hate,
forgiveness to overcome injustice.
African-American tourists
stand by his quotes,
picturing themselves as descendants of his word.
We are still climbing to the mountaintop.
We are still struggling to end slavery.
We are still trying to figure out how to sit
at the lunch counter.
Equality is still a dream that a man may have,
but it needs nurturing to grow.
The dream is still a dream.
We honor the memory of the dreamer,
speak his words like Biblical verses,
and choose the chapters by which we live.
We choose the chapters by which we live.
In the garden of hope I have a dream.
I have a dream.
I have a dream that some day
all be equal.
I hold this dream to be self-evident.

Monuments to war
sprout like trees
watered by tears.
A long, black slab stretches
across the landscape,
like a dark prince
offering a hug to the earth
where bodies fall to dust.
Names give life to the dead.
Richard L. Reed.
W6, 113.
But there is no story—
only a name—
no picture with his smile
and gentle eyes, no mention
that he was a farm boy, just married,
beautiful wife, proud parents.
I cannot bear to trace his name
or trace my memory.
And I think of Joey, too.
At the end of the wall
names stop abruptly
where the wall plunges into the earth
like a shovel digging a grave.
Joey’s name is not there—
Agent Orange
kept him from the wall.
Still today
there are suicides, and long-suffering soldiers
still dying.
Still today
there are those still living with wounded souls.
Still today
bodies are counted.
Still today
names are written into the earth
and flowers grow where tears are shed.

Under the earth
on the subway a black man
on the floor. He could
just as easily be white.
He pleads,
a repetitious recitation:
“Excuse me, might someone be able to help me?
“Excuse me, might someone be able to help me?
“Excuse me, might someone be able to help me?
“Excuse me, might someone be able to help me?
“Excuse me, might someone be able to help me?”
A woman reaches out to him with a five dollar bill in her hand—
I think to shut him up. He takes the bill.
“Excuse me, might someone be able to help me?
“Excuse me, might someone be able to help me?
“Excuse me, might someone be able to help me?
“I need $18 dollars for a room for the night.”
Two sisters, black and white, with babies in carriages
pushed by mothers too young to be mothers
“He said, ‘Might someone help me’, and that woman
“gave him FIVE dollars. Anyone
“could sit the floor and ask that.
“And where you get a room for $18? I need to know that.”
Her sister friend peeks into her baby carriage and speaks:
“Do you want to help him? No,”
she answers for the child. “No, you don’t.”
And me, I do not reach into my pocket,
more afraid of their judgment than of his pleas,
his please,
and my shame becomes greater than his need.
The subway train door opens.
I exit,
up the stairs where a homeless
woman, Latina, stands with her daughter
and a sign pleading for help.
I reach into my pocket and hand the girl some money,
and walk away.
I smile and walk away, wiping a tear from my eye,
watering my soul for a new season.

In the air between Washington, DC and Madison, Wisconsin

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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