Imaginary Oklahoma is an ongoing project in which some of today’s most important and influential writers combine with artists to provide a fictional take on this place we call home. Through a wide variety of voices, styles, and literary devices, these works prove that “Oklahoma” is much more than a place, it’s an idea.
It’s as if those first three lines had been wired into my brain. As if they’d always been there, since the first flutter of consciousness. The rest of the lines were extraneous. What more could one need after the rousing excess of that famous opening, followed by the later self-soothing appraisal, “You’re doin’ fine.” Not great, not good, just fine. I always found comfort in that lack of pretension.
I fixed midway between a soundless mouthing and a whisper. The lines didn’t hold up under the restraint. “O.K.” especially needed volume and emphasis. I stopped after three sotto voce renditions. I rolled down the window and leaned my head out. It would have sounded great out there. How loud, I wondered, would I have to shout “O.K.” into the wind for it to have the necessary brio. My mother’s voice was sharp, “Robbie, get your head back in. And roll that window up. Now.” I slid back in the seat. I didn’t take “Roll that window up” literally but more as another way of saying, “Don’t do it again.” I had no intention of doing it again. I formed my mouth silently around the words, exaggerating my facial expressions for drama. I kept it up until we reached the next town, which is when my father turned the car around.
Mary Jo Bang is the author of six volumes of poetry, most recently, The Bride of E and Elegy, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award. She lives in St. Louis and teaches at Washington University.