No. 21: Carrie Bennett
Q. The withholding of the journey itself is interesting, in that the story is what comes before the journey. What compelled you to this structure, to examining the anxieties and the logistics?
At the time I wrote Ghost Plants, I had been writing prose poems about a grandmother and a child, so I tried to extend my notions of a poem’s boundaries in this flash-fiction piece. When I saw a photograph a friend took of an actual ghost plant—that eerie and haunting flower that seems too fragile for this world—the image became central in my story’s map. I think because this piece began as a poem (that I kept adding bits of detail to) and an image, it naturally became more meditative than plot-driven. In this way, my focus on the pre-journey preparations—all the work and worry of the unknown—kept branching forward. What would the grandmother and child need to survive their journey? Who would help them? These questions interested me more than the actual journey itself. The solemnity of leaving with no certain return: to set out on this kind of journey would require so much of the grandmother and child.
Q. A map with various birdsongs for a legend sounds beautiful on multiple levels—if you were making a map of a place of your choosing, what place would that be and what would the legend consist of?
I’m fascinated with Antarctica right now because I’ve been writing erasure poems of Richard E. Byrd’s Alone, a memoir of his time there, for my new poetic project Expedition Notes. My Antarctic legend would contain an endless sky-sphere of every winter color: feather-grays to opaque milk-clouds, granite branches (because my Antarctica would have a single small tree), the subtle blue-hues of water and ice and air. (Nuances are more important during the bald resolve of winter.) To understand the business of blizzards, a small section would contain diagrams of ghostly breath-shapes and instruments of survival for such an extreme terrain: a ladder, a tunnel, a record album. A single wolf for companionship. The ground would be drawn as an enormous frozen door, a territory of fine-lined fissures. And along the map’s periphery the sounds of moving water trapped underneath it all.
Q. What would deer do if they had hands—just eat, or something more productive, perhaps?
I love imagining deer with hands! (Our hands give us so much freedom.) I think these deer would sew intricate pieces of handmade lace and build bright paper mobiles for their forest trees. They would hold cameras to photograph ice-covered red berries, write their own stories to document each season. They would surprise hunters with hidden tunnels. Maybe they would build a boat and travel to the middle of the largest lake to watch strange animals swim beneath the water’s surface. They would be wordless, furry almost-humans, but without our terrible tools for violence. And eventually, once they figured out how to build small bonfires for warmth and comfort, they would create their own sign language and their hands would become beautiful birds.
Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Prose Editor Joel Hans.
Carrie Bennett’s piece, “Ghost Plants,” appears in The Emerald Issue of Fairy Tale Review, and is excerpted here.
The grandmother thought it was time to take the child to see the ghost plants so she drew an elaborate map of where they would find them deep in the forest. The map was a botanical collage with trails threading through patches of purple and pink Anemones, Maidenhair ferns, clusters of white birches, and Lilies-of-the-Valley. All the lines led to a small white circle that contained the ghost plants, their milky stems and little greying heads drooping down, a sadder bloom than any other flower on the map. They remember a lot, the grandmother said. The old woman drew a small replication of the white flowers that didn’t rely on the sun. She gave them scales instead of leaves with a single flower at the end of each stem. The flowers are nodding when they first emerge from the ground, she told the child. The child considered the drawing. They look like little white seahorses with roots, she finally said.
The legend contained the abbreviations of birdsongs they would hear on their journey, of the red-winged Blackbird and his conk-la-ree! call. The glossy-black males have scarlet-and-yellow shoulder patches they can puff up or hide depending on how confident they feel, the grandmother told the child. Look up when we get to the cattails. They’ll be waiting for us at the very tips of the tails.
The child was worried about getting lost so they decided to bring their white dog. She’ll be good for smelling, the child said. We won’t need to tie ribbons to trees to remember our way home, said the grandmother.