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Hop a Train, 1924 // 2016

Acoustic Guitar and Electronics

Duration // 8'30"

Hop a Train, 1924

My dad was set free from the El Paso jail along with his partner Lee...

Wheels in their eyes set them ago. Run along the accelerating train,

boxcar ladder near at hand. One arm reached while still running,

one hand on the ladder rung, one swing pulled up and away,
head high and feet from solid ground. Lee did the same.

Glorious ride atop boxcar roof. Arizona mountains
after the Continental Divide. Sun-squint to the distance.
Lost hat. Wilcox in 400 miles, a siding where they might slip in

an open boxcar door to sleep like children on cattle straw.

Wake up. Where are they? They’re at Rattlesnake Crafts—
a trailer on the Sonoran Desert floor behind a yard of strung poles

holding a history book of found discarded lore—strung
across wire lines where the wind rules and blows a symphony

through and about the hanging pots and pans of miners,
century old Spanish swords and guns,
moving, metal motion, clanging time,
colanders and spatulas from some miner’s bride,

swaying skulls and pelvic bones blown smooth. They are wind toys.

And above all—the rattlesnake. His skin has become craft,

eyeglass cases, head bands, the wallet Lee always wished he had.

The two touched rust, touched wind, touched the rattlesnake...

Hobos hungry for days, they hopped back on an outgoing train,

traveling westward, dreaming of jam on toast, jumping
from boxcar roof to moving boxcar roof, their eyes
on the mountains—sharp, stark horizon, looking for a break
in the ridge line, marker rocks, and the way through.

Lee touched his wallet. Buck took his glasses from their case.


This piece was written for the second annual Michigan State University voicing poetry collaboration between MSU composers and Michigan poets. Incorporating almost exclusively sounds generated from an acoustic guitar, the piece weaves a timbral soundscape as a counterpart to the poetry (written by Joyce Benvenuto).  There is both a fixed-media version, and a version for live guitar performer and electronics. 

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