Why I Will Not Burn the Flag – Author’s Note on 4th of July

Author's Note July 4, 2024: Coming back to this, several months after I dropped it on the page, to see if I can take some part and make it into a poem (because right now, it is not one on its own). My philosophy has not changed. But I'd like to do something with the images. I will have to rethink on this. 


It’s complicated, really, it began so long ago,
while bent over a bin of gourmet ice cream, scooping
it out for a customer: “Don’t you believe in company
loyalty?” And I had to tell him, no. “I am not loyal
to groups,” I said. “I am loyal to people.”

And while that probably wasn’t the ideal thing
to say to the boss (who was dating the owner’s
daughter) it made me think decades later
why I would never burn the flag. You see, it’s not

because of the history, per se, and it’s not because
of what it stands for. It’s not the immense plastering
of banners stuck on bridges, teak shadowboxes
of democracy caught behind a smudged sign that says
“Do not touch.” It’s not some kind of philosophy,
or superstition, or guilt. It’s always about the people—

literal people who died for something meaningful,
something truthful and worthy—even if they’re still alive.
It’s the family I care about, ones who survived the shelling,
who came home delicate and sad. It’s the people I love
who hold hands to hearts because they still believe in equality
and equity. I respect the flag for mothers who have to give up
their only sons, who sacrifice their daughters and lose
to war those last frayed threads we parents have
when children are grown, determined to “make
a difference” or “make something of themselves.” And so

if someone close asks me, “Do you hate your country?
You don’t like the Pledge of Allegiance,” I give the same
answer I gave long ago, or something somewhat similar:
I am not loyal to companies, or flags, or organizations.
I don’t care about some spot on a map that you might call
call a country. I am not sworn to groups, or collectives,

or anything called ideology. But I will mouth the Pledge
for you, my loves, and anyone else who earned it—because
what you gave me I can never return, and it is you whom I will honor.
You, I would never betray. You I would give my life for. And for you,
I will say again and again—you matter. And so do people.
And if anyone ever awkwardly asks you whether I am patriotic,
feel free to tell them, no. Tell them, instead, I wouldn’t burn the flag,
but I will speak up for justice. And for that, feel free to also say loudly
that I’m a Mediterranean American warrior. And if they don’t get it,
well—that’s on them. It’s all they need to know.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt, copyright March 11, 2024, all rights reserved

Katherine Gotthardt

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt, M.Ed., writing concentration, hails from the Northern Virginia/D.C. metro area. She considers herself a writer by nature and by trade, having begun writing for fun as soon as her mother helped teach her to read. An active part of the literary community, Katherine was a past-president and a founding member of Write by the Rails (WbtR), the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. Katherine has been a Prince William County Poet Laureate nominee and was the winner of Inside Nova’s 2019 and 2020 Best of Prince William award in the category of author. Her poetry and prose book Get Happy, Dammit: Staying Inspired and Motivated in an Often-Unhappy World received a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association. Katherine's children’s book, A Crane Named Steve, hit number one in its category on Amazon in 2019. Katherine then took first place in the free verse category of Loudoun County Library Foundation’s 2020 Rhyme On poetry contest for her piece "Discussion Topic." The Prince William Arts Council and Poet Laureate Circle awarded her the 2020 Outstanding Poetry Project Award for her leadership in Write by the Rails' Poems Around Town poetry installation. In 2021 Katherine earned second place for "Aftermath" in a Poetry Society of Virginia national contest and the regional Seefeldt Award for Arts Excellence in the category of Individual Artist. She won first place in the Virginia Writers Club statewide Golden Nib contest in the poetry category for her poem "Kayak." Katherine was recognized as a PW Perspective 2021 DMV Best Business award winner in the category of author. In April 2023, Katherine’s poem “Now Entering Manassas” was the winner of Manassas, Virginia's adult “time capsule” poetry contest. Katherine read her poem at the 150th anniversary celebration, the translated version by Jorge de Villasante was read in Spanish by Bianca Menendez, her poem was published in Neighbors of Historic Manassas magazine, and it was included in the city’s time capsule. While Katherine is well-known for her poetry, she also has established a solid reputation for writing articles, columns and short fiction. She is published in dozens of journals and anthologies and has authored 12 books: Poems from the Battlefield, Furbily-Furld Takes on the World, Approaching Felonias Park, Weaker Than Water, Bury Me Under a Lilac, Late April, A Crane Named Steve, Get Happy, Dammit, D.C. Ekphrastic: Crisis of Faith, Thirty Years of Cardinals Calling, Get Happier, Dammit and We All Might Be Witches. She uses proceeds from her books to support giving back initiatives.
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