Carrie Bennett’s Lost Letters and Other Animals is a five segment lament of writing the wrong words, waiting endlessly for the right words to come, the ability to label things slipping away over a span of years. It is a tip-of-the-tongue, edge-of-the-seat collection, shedding light on some of the darker aspects of aging. As someone who has studied gerontology and worked on a memory care unit, I find Bennett’s creative exploration of dementia compelling. Reader, writer, and subject navigate brain fog together, bouncing names back and forth, fishing for who can complete each thought first.
Bennett keeps the reader engaged stylistically, the first pages opening with an italicized, commanding line, telling you to look for ghost plants or keep walking through the forest. At times the reader is directly addressed and given warning. There are repeated images of the bell, the canary, the deer, providing a continuous and winding nature trail for us to wander. We go through many beginnings and revisitations, with the solemn promise that “everything will be both / new and terrible at the same time.”
Each section is masterfully written in a different style, initially short, wide-spaced and whimsical thoughts, giving way to numbered blocks of text with more tonal distance, cataloguing the movements of the body and the overwritten memories of the mind. At the end, we stumble through jarring line breaks, letters making hectic patterns across the blankness, the perfect format for a theme of forgetting and trying to fill in the empty spaces.
“Eventually all objects will lose their function… thrown into an enormous pile of other stones,” Bennett foresees. Such a small and solemn sentence, but it packs an immense amount of power. The things we treasure and things we take for granted may all fade into obscurity or rubble in the future, whether it is a necklace, a car, a microwave. We may not remember their purpose, mechanical or meaningful, and we will have to plan our days around these gaps.
Maybe we should take more pictures. Maybe we overestimate our memories, forget that sometimes we will never be able to remember the things we forgot. We will never know when the last memory of something will cross our mind for the final time. Someday, saying I love you will become meaningless muscle memory, when “the body forgets how to be a body.” The mind forgets how to be a mind. What is left, then?
Bennett parallels the stages of dementia with nature, trees losing their leaves at the end of the day and growing leaves back the next morning, until eventually the cycle ends and there are no more trees. The seasons of life pass by in an unstoppable progression. The actions we take and the memories we make during this time are up to us all individually, although the outcome may be out of our control in the end.
For more astounding, artistic ruminations, keep an eye out for future work from Carrie Bennett. The best is likely yet to come.
(Black Lawrence Press, January 2021)
Bethany Crawford has studied both health science and creative writing, and currently works as a medical scribe in Alabama. She was once the poetry editor of Green Blotter Literary Magazine and read submissions for Spark: A Creative Anthology and Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. She rants and shares photos of her ragdoll cats on Twitter @bethanylmary.