Sitting at crossings and waiting for freights to pass, we have all noticed words
– COTTON BELT / ERIE / BE SPECIFIC – SAY UNION PACIFIC /
SOUTHERN SERVES THE SOUTH – going by. I propose to capitalize on
this fact in the following way:
All freight cars that have high solid sides – boxcars, refrigerator cars, tank
cars, hopper cars, cement cars – should be painted one of eight attractive
colors and have one large word printed on them:
1. Burnt orange freight cars with the word CLOUD in olive drab.
2. Peagreen freight cars with the word STAR in charcoal gray.
3. Rose-red freight cars with the word MEADOW in salmon pink.
4. Glossy black freight cars with the word STEAM in gold.
5. Peach-colored freight cars with the word AIR in royal blue.
6. Peach-colored freight cars with the word PORT in forest green.
7. Lavender freight cars with the word GRASS in vermilion or scarlet.
8. Swiss blue freight cars with the word RISING in chocolate brown.
When this has been accomplished, freight cars should continue to be used in
the usual ways, so that the word and color combinations will be entirely
random, and unpredictable poems will roll across the landscape.
Freight cars without words (i.e. without high or solid sides, such as flatcars,
cattle cars, gondolas, automobile transporters, etc.) should all be painted
white, to emphasize their function as spaces in the poems. Cabooses can be
this color too, with a large black dot, the only punctuation.
Approximations of these random train poems can be arrived at by using the numbers above, plus 9 and 0 for spaces, and combining serial numbers from dollar bills, social security numbers, birthdates, and telephone numbers. The 5-6 combination, which makes AIRPORT, is considered to be a lucky omen, 2-6 may been luckier.
This project would need to be carried out over the entire United States at
once. Every five years a competition could be held among poets to see who
can provide the best set of colors and words for next time.
"My wife worked at Allen Art Museum, with Athena Tacha, so I was very much aware of the ongoing discussions of conceptual art that were taking place then" he says. "Since I was writing poems about freight trains, developing a conceptual art project for them felt like an apt and natural response at the time. At readings I would call for a random series of numbers, e.g. off a dollar bill, so that we could generate a train-poem on the spot."