Traces of melancholy, flashes of resilience and above all, an abundance of wonder – at things both quotidian and cosmic, past and present – shine through Life in Suspension/La Vie Suspendue (2016, Salmon Poetry), a bi-lingual collection by poet, translator and actress Hélène Cardona (Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, IMDb, Amazon).
The daughter of a Spanish father and Greek mother, Cardona was born in Paris, grew all over Europe and now lives in Santa Monica, California. She studied English Philology and Literature in Cambridge, England; Spanish at the International Universities of Santander and Baeza, Spain; and German at the Goethe Institute in Bremen, Germany. Later, she attended Hamilton College, New York, where she also taught French and Spanish, and the Sorbonne, Paris, where she wrote her thesis on Henry James for her Master’s in American Literature.
As a translator, Cardona has worked at embassies and as an actress, had roles in successful films such as Chocolat (2000), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) and Jurassic World (2015). She has published in several journals and magazines, among them World Literature Today and Asymptote.
The multiplicity of Cardona’s endeavours, the littlest of worries and the grandest of adventures of her traveller’s life come together in Life in Suspension in a most graceful harmony.
In the title poem, she collects memories, peels the past, unwinds the clock – revisits herself at ages 0, 4, 6, 9, 11, 13, 16…tasting German Christmas treats, playing the piano in Geneva, leaving her mother behind at the airport and flying to America. She ultimately learns to let go, to trust in the ripeness of the moment.
In “A House Like A Ship”, Cardona imaginatively describes the drive and the pain of an uncertain peripatetic existence. But the struggles along the way only toughen the frame and strengthen the spirit:
I live in a house like a ship / at times on land, at times on ocean. / I will myself into existence / surrender, invite grace in. / I heed the call of the siren. / On the phantom ship / I don’t know if I’m wave / or cloud, undine or seagull. / Lashed by winds, I cling tight to the mast. / Few return from the journey. / I now wear the memory of nothingness / a piece of white sail wrapped like second skin.
Themes of missed opportunities, unfulfilled wishes gradually unfold but the poet’s voice never descends into bitterness or despair. An expectation for the unexpected remains alive like an unextinguishable flame:
I count / the years of my life, / plucking daisy petals. / I count / the losses of my life, / blowing kisses in the air. / Perhaps if I cry my tears away / for what will never be, / I’ll still live what may become. / And if I give up / what I never had, / I’ll experience what I never dreamed.
Cardona then goes on to examine self-identity – the many facets of it, the different possibilities hidden in one single person. She employs an enchanting idiom of dreams, doppelgängers and parallel universes to talk of one’s desire for other versions of themselves.
Towards the end, Cardona finds herself alive…witnessing her own funeral. Death is hardly an event because she has just happily dissolved into the earth and the sky from which her individuality had emerged in the first place. She has merely changed state from solid to liquid to ether. And this is a sequence that will be played again and again. Here, Cardona quotes the ancient Greek philosopher Anaxagoras – “Nothing is born or perishes, but already existing things combine, then separate anew.”
Overall, Life in Suspension is a magical collection of poetry that will enrich the reader. Profound in thought, assured in tone, it artfully makes references to several great minds of the East and the West – Rumi and Hafiz, E. E. Cummings and Carl Sagan.
The words of the poet: “I write as a form of self-expression, fulfillment, transcendence, healing, to transmute pain and experience into beauty…writing is cathartic as it extends a search for peace, for serenity, rooted in a desire to transcend and reconcile the fundamental duality I see in life. Ultimately, I seek expansion of consciousness.”
Other volumes available by Hélène Cardona are works of poetry Dreaming My Animal Selves (2013, Salmon Poetry) and The Astonished Universe (2006, Red Hen Press) along with works of translation Beyond Elsewhere (by Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac, White Pine Press, 2016) and Ce que nous portons (by Dorianne Laux, Éditions du Cygne, 2014).