Letter to America by Christine Byl

One Poem

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July 4, 2022

On this, the first Independence Day of my life thus far1 on which I have less rights—am less free—than the year before:

            I pledge allegiance to the freak flag, my banner I dare let fly in the face of sycophants.

            I pledge allegiance to the fags, the bag ladies, the ragamuffins. To anyone misnamed or shamed

                        and to the ragged rhythm of this less perfect union that has not quite given up
                        on itself

                        and to all the women who drag themselves forward on their bellies toward
                        autonomy, as if to a desert mirage.

            I pledge allegiance to the sag, the tug of age, wrinkles around my eyes, and to the droop of each
            shoulder that has borne other weights and griefs and now—.         

            I pledge allegiance to the crags upthrust from these lands that I love, and to stand beside them
            (moss campion, moulin, tarn, crenulated arete) and to defend the Earth they salute

                        and to the snag, the dead tree that I fell if it’s a hazard near a trail, and
                        when it’s not, I leave it standing, its decay a beacon for wood borers and
                        woodpeckers, a column of frass.

            I pledge allegiance to the wag of an old sled dog’s tail, a fierce flag in winter chill, one ground
            thump in the too-much of summer heat, smoky air, fires burning everywhere.

            I pledge allegiance to the sea-stars & snipes

                        to the swimmers and crawlers and flappers, my home their home, all of us
                        animals, all of us.

            I pledge allegiance to the endlings.2 To the last egg, the lost feather, to the long migration.
            Arctic tern, godwit, dead juvenile chickadee I found nestled in tundra: I pledge allegiance to you.

            I pledge allegiance to the flagged—the tired, the exhausted, and the unbowed—and to one
            notion, understood, that I repeat even when I do not believe it: I am free.     

            The birds, the bears, the bees, you, me. We are free.


[1] 1973-2022—same as Roe.
[2] The last member of a species, coined in Nature, in 1996.




Christine BylChristine Byl is the author of Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods, finalist for the 2014 Willa Award in nonfiction; and a novel, Lookout, forthcoming in March 2023 from A Strange Object/Deep Vellum. Christine has made her living as a professional trail builder since 1996. She lives in Interior Alaska with her family on lands of the Dene people.

Read “Wrack Line,” an essay by Christine Byl appearing in Terrain.org.

Header photo by wavebreakmedia, courtesy Shutterstock. Photo of Christine Byl by Celia Olson.





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