Sunday, October 2, 2016

Place, Memory, and Magic Explored in LIFE IN SUSPENSION by Helene Cardona . . . .

Christal Cooper

Helene Cardona’s Life in Suspension: Elation & Peace In A Magical World

In June of 1995 I was going through clinical depression without relief.  Then on Friday, June 31, 1995 my boyfriend (now husband) took me to see Pocahontas.  The colors, the nature scenes, the music, the entire movie took me away to a different realm, where I was mesmerized and for the next 81 minutes I didn’t experience depression, but elation.

It is a very depressive time for our world:  It is the 15th year anniversary of 9/11, ISIS is a threat, gun shootings are a threat, police shootings are a reality, and the individuals running for United States President are scaring both sides of the fence.  These events along with other issues of our day are dominating our poetry world, which is a necessary thing, but there also needs to be poets that bring us into a world where it is safe, beautiful, and peaceful; in other words poets that give us that elation I experienced watching Pocahontas  21 years ago.

       Helene Cardona’s poetry collection Life In Suspension does the same thing.  It takes the readers to places of safety and excitement, gives them a sense of peace, and a oneness with God/Higher Power/Universe which usually cannot be found in most of today’s contemporary poetry.   

photo attribution Adrian Carr

       Life In Suspension published by Salmon Poetry Press is a bi-lingual edition with the poem in French on the left side and the poem in English on the right side.  


Place in Life In Suspension
       The highlight and titled poem “Life In Suspension” is a detailed description of the places the speaker of the poem has lived or visited, matched with a memory.  It is here that place becomes memory and memory becomes place. 

Let me introduce myself
I’m the Memory Collector, your companion and spirit guide
Let’s unwind the clock, peel the past.

       In the last two lines of the first stanza the speaker of the poem describes what her goal is in unwinding the clock:

So they can revisit and reinvent who you are.
Let the dance begin.

The dance begins with the speaker of the poem in her mother’s womb in Paris, and continues for the next sixteen years

Brother Rodrigo, Helene, and mother Kitty in Florence, Italy. 

     A memory is attached to every single year that the speaker of the poem encounters a different place: France, Switzerland, Monaco, Spain, Wales, England, Germany, New York, and California.

Helene in Spain 

Photo of where Helene and her family lived at the foot of Jura Mountain

Helene attending the Geneva Music Conservatory 

Helene in Peru 

Helene in Paris, France 

The goal is not to simply remember but to remember just enough loss to let go, in order to experience newness with peace and confidence.   The eulogy poem "Ex Temper" dedicated to her brother Rodrigo is an example of how Cardona does this through her poetry.

As autumn deepens, he lives parallel lives.
Unlike his body, he seems at peace.                                 All I can think is, please God spare him.
Left, Rodrigo and Helene in the southwest of France.
Right, Helene and Rodrigo in Villars, Switzerland where they would ski. 
       How do we embrace our new mature selves without having to forsake who we once were?  How do we let go of old memories just enough to create new ones?  The speaker of the poem answers those questions in the last stanza.
I’m learning to let go, trust the ripeness of the moment.
That everything happens at the right time.
To appreciate what I have.
I’m connected to my bones,
filled with the richness and texture of space, uplifted,
vibrating, reverberating.  I become the sound
of Tibetan bells, echoing and hovering in the cosmos.
I perceive the whole world below, life in suspension.

       In “El Recuerdo” Cardona remembers the first time she visits her grandparents in Tarragona on her own at the age of six.   Her grandmother gives her a cookie and this cookie symbolizes a new memory, a new place, and a new language.

Helene with mother Kitty, brother Rodrigo, and paternal grandparents, in Ibiza, Spain.

My grandmother offers me a unique and plain cookie
of the kind I haven’t encountered anywhere else
and utters the magic word, galleta.
This is the first word I learn with her.
We watch a game on TV, el juego de la oca,
and these become the next words.
That is how, enveloped in unconditional love,
I discover the language of Cervantes
and of God, as it’s been called.

  Miguel de Cervantes  

Animals in Life In Suspension
       Animals are the portals through which the reader of these poems can travel to peaceful places, experience the oneness of God, and become companions to the animals themselves.

Helene as a little girl with her pet dog 

       In “Eagle”, the eagle is a symbolism of God, poet, angel, and the time capsule the speaker of the poem experiences, which guides her to exorcise painful memories, in order to experience divinity.

Image of eagle attributed to Tony Higgett of Birmingham, UK

me in Eagle form, reawakens
       old scars, swallows
            space and love, dissolves
                into divine silence.

The universe cannot resist
                        a poet like him.

       In “Ritual” the speaker of the poem meets her soul-mate in the form of a seagull. The seagull combs her hair with the wind, and keeps “taunting/ me, blowing love’s echo in the night.”  Using the word taunting to describe this union seems inappropriate because taunting usually implies mocking or insulting an individual in a malicious way.  But there is another definition of taunting, which is to tease and excite sexually.  In this stanza the seagull is taunting the speaker of the poem not for sex, but to strip off all barriers in order to experience a spiritual euphoria called eternity.

Seagull photo attributed to Jiang Chen 

It keeps waking me, taunting
me, blowing love’s echo in the night.
Just me and time is all it takes.
Eternity swallowed that simple.

Another way to describe this is seduction but this is a wholesome seduction, for the betterment of the person being seduced.

How I disappear in azure eyes.
Words pulsate in my blood,
I can read ad infinitum,
wishing the road never ends.

Soon the speaker of the poem’s world is no longer a dream but now a spell with a sky full of birds.

 Sky full of red-billed birds, CCBYSA 2.0 

The sky fills with hundreds of birds
who witness the sun steal away, the day die
as your smile eclipses the light
and turns the dream into a spell.
       In “How God Thinks Is Surprising” the speaker of the poem and her mother are two swans acting in a play that is directed by God.  In the poem, mother and daughter transform into an angel. 

We’re part of each other,
a continuation of movement, dance, beauty.
Together we form a whole, a heart, an angel.

Kitty, her friend Marieluise and Helene in Karben, Germany.

The angel is now able to conquer time by making it disappear and as it disappears the closer mother and daughter grow to God.

We invented time.
The more we make it disappear,
the closer to God we grow.

       In the last stanza Cardona gives us her own testimony of why animals are so important in her poetry, particularly this book of poetry:

Painting from jacket cover of Dreaming My Animal Selves   

I like morphing into an animal,
devouring who I was.
The earth never fails me.

Metaphysical poetry in Life In Suspension
       Helene Cardona’s Life In Suspension could be described as metaphysical poetry, coined by Samuel Johnson to describe a loose group of 17th-century English poets whose work was characterized by highly intellectualized thinking with the use of conceits (extended metaphors or paradoxes) to create a new poetic thought.  

These extended metaphors or paradoxes have no direct relationship.  An example is a person transforming into a swan, then an angel, and a wolf.  There are no specific connections between the three and these transformations are impossible in our world.  This makes the poems magical, lyrical and an example of metaphysical poetry.  

       However, the metaphysical I experienced in Cardona’s Life In Suspension is not necessarily a form of poetry but a place that I as a reader travel to and explore.

back jacket cover of Life In Suspension 

       For Cardona the place of the metaphysical is a way for her to unite with her mother, who has since passed.    She unites with her mother in “Patience” and joins her there in the wild grass garden where her mother patiently waits for her.

Left, Kitty in Switzerland.  Right, Helene with her father. 


      In “Winter Horse” the speaker of the poem goes through different worlds as her mother “blows directions in my ear”:  edge of life, endeavor, the road, end of the skyline, and the land of shadows.

Hélène riding her favorite horse Sherwood in Vermont.

       In “Mind Games” the two selves of the speaker of the poem catch up with each other on the “lee shores of the Moon.”

The Earthrise from the Moon - Apollo 8 1968

       In “A Mind Like Lightning” the speaker of the poem becomes part of the universe –as place and identity:

Without gravity
   I fly into a thousand pieces,
       add sparkle to various reflections
   fallen stars, colliding lights
       transform particles, waves, and dark matter.
I become ocean, mercury, silver
    shimmers, fairy tales, fascinated.
The strangeness of this atmosphere
    seduces, shifts consciousness,
          shapes bloodstreams,
               provokes a rush.

       In the last four lines of the poem Cardona becomes the seducer, seducing her readership to a new world where fighting ceases, and the readers become prosperous poets.

Let the next dimension pull you,
    lightning-mind, prosperous poet,
duellist without a fight.
    Let the lake talk, embrace it. 

       Cardona’s Life In Suspension gives its readership an escape from this world by transforming all of us into safe, exciting, and magical worlds, one of which is described in the last poem of the collection:


Fall asleep at the lake
tonight, no boundaries, like a fairy.
I am the eagle song, a calling, light
defying gravity, someone to steal
horses with, a case of mistaken identity,
tears transforming into fish in the air,
a force that propels forward, proclaims
who I am with a passport from God,
Her will an explosion, with bullets
for words.  I offer you everything:
stardust, silence, impish grace
and flutes like birdsong mischievous,
good and bad, pulled out of myself into
the spell. I ask the unthinkable,
move so fast, breathless, delicate
craftsmanship.  I walk on all fours,
elongated, neither human nor animal,
a creature you only see in magic.  

                                                                                      Helene Cardona and Poet John FitzGerald

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