U.S. flags with U.S. Capitol in background, at sunset

Letter to America

By Kristen Munson

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When did you realize there was a hit job on your country? What did you do when you learned that it is still the mark?

Dear America,

What is the measure of a day? Of a life?

Breaths in, breaths out?

The number of dishes that accumulate in the sink? Phone calls muted? Tweets shared? Nostrils swabbed?

Is it the kisses you manage to plant on the nub of your toddler’s nose before he tears off down the hall or the ones you missed?

What time was it when the mob punched holes in the Capitol? We documented it in civil time but it was anything but.

I was pulling mittens over my youngest’s hands when insurgents broke through the gates. Congress was counting votes. Some people inside didn’t want them to count at all.

We were going to the library to find books about bugs. I gripped my two-year-old’s puffy hand as we walked to town like everything was normal even though it was not.

If everyone voted who would win?

If everyone voted but we only tallied the ones we agree with would we win or just believe that we did?

My sons were four and almost two when a man waved a Confederate flag in the people’s house. Someday they will see the horror and try to understand why we didn’t do more to stop it. Like climate change.

How many people smeared feces on the walls? Tell me where to scrub and I will do it. Because everything still reeks of the stench.

When did executives in a glass office far away switch off the cruel man’s voice? Was it too late or just in time?

How long have we needed the silence?

If you are standing at the poles for the summer solstice and twilight never ends, do you miss a day or just blend two together? Like the years we wore masks.

What day will the polar ice caps melt?

When my children are my age will there still be whales?

My eldest wrote a letter to the head of General Mills instead of writing to Santa Claus. Orangutans are endangered and does he know? (He knows, I think.) But we stamped the envelope and sent it to a P.O. Box 9452 somewhere in Minneapolis. Maybe it’s still there collecting cereal dust.

What is the value of my life?

Babies birthed? Words typed? Debt accrued or debt paid off?

When did you realize that your mother wasn’t crazy? That maybe she was just tired and hasn’t had a hot cup of coffee in years.

When did you realize that your mother was crazy? That she was afraid of loneliness and found a community in lies on the internet? Sometimes, she calls it church.

What if her God isn’t your God?

Who is really going to hell?

Are the Gods all just throwing popcorn at their screens and laughing?

My five-year-old sometimes pretends he is a bird. He tapes red and pink feathers to his shoulders and dances around like a rare bird of paradise lost in my kitchen.

What do you get when you add one abortion, one miscarriage, and two babies? I see two peanut butter mouths that need wiping.

How many hugs have you failed to give? How many times did you need sturdy hands wrapped around your back but found yourself holding your own arms and weeping?

When did you realize there was a hit job on your country?

What did you do when you learned that it is still the mark?

Do we calculate the measure of a day in Black bodies taken or those not lost? The rise or fall of the stock market? Executions stayed? School children not gunned down by their peers? Acreage sold to energy development? The price of gas? Species delisted from extinction? Available hospital beds?

What standards are we using?

Are they enough?



Kristen MunsonKristen Munson is a writer whose reporting has appeared in Utah State Magazine, Utah Public Radio, and in High Country News. She enjoys walking in the woods with her two young sons, kicking over rocks, and listening for the birds she can’t quite see.

Read an essay by Kristen Munson also appearing in Terrain.org: “Maple Syrup Season.”

Header photo by Orhan Cam, courtesy Shutterstock.


Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.