The Promise of Labor

by Stephen Dau

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.

One day, after Ephraim Noah had hitched up his five-year-old Fordson, climbed into the driver’s seat, and bounced out over the rolling spread with the mouldboards behind him dragging lines across the field like the black type across its twice-mortgaged paper, he noticed a spark jump from one of the steel blades and something caught his eye, prompting him to idle the engine and hop down into the sod, where he plucked from the soil a long flint knapped sharp at the edges, just the right shape to bend onto a dogwood shaft and let fly through the very air into which he gazed, cloudless and clear over the forty perfect acres everyone had wanted back in ‘89, until his grandfather had got to it sooner, all of it as yet untouched by oil derricks and missile silos and filled with the promise of labor, from which he had just paused, because standing there in that moment, with a suddenness that took his breath, he realized that, try as you might, pretend as you might, you never really own the earth.