Catching the Send-Off Train: Melanie Faith

 About Melanie Faith
 About the Poems

About the Poems

Catching the Send-Off Train began in late October 2012 as a free-write. As a longtime quote collector, I started drafting with a quotation from a prose poem from Allison Benis-White's collection, Self-Portrait with Crayon: “Several women run alongside a train blowing kisses that break against the windows.” From this profoundly visual image, I was off and typing. Where was that train going? Who were the women running to meet it? What circumstances would make them blow kisses as they ran? Why did the kisses “break?” I wrote towards the compelling questions that the quote evoked.

This chapbook originated as a single poem divided into six sections, á la Wallace Stevens, but as I continued to write I realized by draft eight that the story was bigger than I’d anticipated and that my “she” and “he” surely had names and backstory deeper than I had developed at that point. I shared an early draft with writing friends and also performed it at a poetry spoken word reading and received complimentary feedback that encouraged me to return to the draft a month later to restructure the pieces of the one poem into a collection of linked individual poems with new titles for each section.

A fascinating thing happened as I expanded the poem into a series of poems and added specifics—not only did Pauline’s and Edgar’s personalities start to emerge, but the baby who I never intended to become a main character had his own no-less-compelling story that needed to be told. It wasn't only Pauline's story of loss and resilience, but also their son, Charlie’s. I found myself drawn into Pauline’s loss and healing process—when and how would she take off Edgar’s ring? Would she be able to move on, and how would she express who Edgar was to their son who had never known his father? The cigar box treasures, red gingham curtains, and Dan and Dave emerged in later drafts and were delightful surprises that, on reflection, made Pauline’s and Charlie’s world feel more fully formed.

As I continued to expand the manuscript and to explore these characters over several weeks, remembrances of my own travels in Italy in 2009—particularly seeing the unfolded tri-color flag proudly festooning ships, apartments, and cafes—informed imagery as well as backstory.

As for subject matter and setting, I realize now that even before writing Catching the Send-Off Train last fall I came across several sets of correspondence for sale online. As a once-prolific snail-mail writer, the tan envelopes and faded blue script intrigued me from the start. I put a bid in for a set of World War Two letters between a soldier and his sweetheart and family, but was nowhere near the high bidder. The WWII seed was planted, however, and from time to time I’d scroll through listings for correspondence from WWII and shortly afterward, the dawning of the Baby Boomer years, both of which have always interested me. About a month after I put the finishing touches on the final drafts of the chapbook in its current form, I was the high bidder for another set of WWII letters which formed a fitting bookend to this project as I “met” another set of characters whose struggles and joys felt as real to me as the ones I've created in this chapbook.

  READ Catching the Send-Off Train:
Telephone Operator
Justice of the Peace
Where There’s Smoke
  There’s Breakfast
Life Line
Fragments, Sent
Red, White, Green
Pauline to Edgar
I’m not saying it’s the same.
Taking off His Ring, Part One
Edgar to Pauline
Tattered Mosaic
And Sometimes a Boy Needs
  a Father
Taking off His Ring, Part Two
Charlie: Settling In
Thirty years
Charlie: Settling In, Part Two
Platform: Traveling Back