Goodbye, Cynthia Jobin

December 25, 2016

Such is Life

girl-graduate_cjI cannot say Cynthia Jobin was lonely when I met her, surrounded as she was by a swarm of friends, eagerly awaiting the next instalment of priceless poetry on her blog, Litleoldladywho.net. I also cannot say I met Cynthia Jobin in the traditional sense of the word; I was struck by her observations on the blog of Bruce Goodman when the latter was busy being Scheherazade, weaving a thousand and one stories on his blog, and I eagerly followed Cynthia to her nest.

The sidebar of Cynthia’s website lists over twenty categories of poetry, ranging from blank verse to Tanka. What caught my fancy though was ‘Ghazals in English’, and I knocked at that portal promptly, only to be bowled over by the very first entry, ‘Unfallen Rain’. I would duly encounter many more gems but what struck me about these ghazals was not so much the immaculate execution of form and style —I would quickly be awed into receiving her mastery in whatever instrument or poetics she chose to go with—as the immeasurable depths of emotions and meanings, innate lyricism and, revelatory aphorisms packed off in tiny couplets a few of which complete these poems.

Come autumn, gathering swallows twitter in the sky;
their song portends oncoming bitter from the sky…

(From ‘Autumn in the Sky’)

Dawn, that old hooker light of the world
returns from wherever she spent the night in the world.

Dust motes randomly dance on a yellowish beam,
soft-nudging my dream to a flight from the world…

(From ‘What in The World’)

Not long after, I graduated to her other poems and was struck by their depths, sweep and multi-layered purports. Cynthia, I realised was an unparalleled priestess of poetry, to whom form and style came as second nature, in Sonnets, Séadna, Rondeaux, Terza Rima, Haiku, Rubaiyat, to cite just a few arrows in her quiver. More I read her poems, more I got to know about her bereavement, the ‘resident sadness that never leaves’ her poetry, and laces her words with an unforgettable beauty. Of all the five years that she chose to share from her oeuvre, she would get elegiac in August of each year, the cruellest month that took away her soulmate and domestic partner of 43 years.

‘Memory has a way of causing one to relive traumatic experiences as anniversaries come around.’

Cynthia’s poems of bereavement join some of the most poignant strains I have chanced upon in the tongues I have learnt or acquired. Since she believed in marrying form to the subject, she chose the most appropriate vessel to fit her words in but that is something for the critic to find out: I am promptly subsumed by the vortex of emotion she manages to churn up, amply aided by symbols and imagery. Speaking of the crepuscular hour of the evening and what it means to her, she says

Name this light a kind of tinting
Between dark and day, a mauve
Interwoven with blue heaven
Hovering over the yew grove.

Always did we keep this hour
Special in our home: your chair,
My chair, sherry on the table
By the gabled window there…

She is not one to give to orthodox notions, but becomes restless on a Halloween eve:

The veil is at its thinnest now, that
suddenly obscured you and left me
bereft, dumbfounded in the desolately clear.
Once a day, at least, I stop to wonder
where you are.  I do not think of
you as being here.  Except, tonight

a heightening of powers in the darkness
wants to break november from october
with a cold slap and a small wail in the wind.

In ‘Real Estate’ she tells us how the house that was once a home has now become unbearable:

But
it is oddly empty now, and also full
of too much memory.  The past
crowds in like those loud crows I hear
competing for the roadkill down the street.

Then, there is the time she tries to coax the departed mate back into being by using the cat as a ruse:

Without you, the cat
has lost his
piss and vinegar.
His alarm clock died.

Remember that old macho paw–
the velvet drumstick
he would play upon our cheeks
to be let out?
He doesn’t do it anymore.

Since you left
he hardly steps outside, he
stretches in the stale
hollow of your pillow, settles-in
to merely watch
the birds chase maple buds.

We watch them together,
the cat and I, we

try to figure how
to start the day without you.
The cat
just sleeps it off.
I write these letters
on the ceiling.
And the letters say please,
please come back

for the sake of the cat.

Although each of her sonnets will give a mighty tug to the strings of the reader’s heart, her direct appellations to her beloved in ‘Sonetto Primavera‘ and ‘Sonetto Incredulo’ are good enough to stop the coldest among us in the tracks.

Cynthia does not restrict herself to strains of loss and mourning. She writes about Nature with a surprising clarity and power. While her verses may appear to take more a Frost-like stance than Wordsworth’s, her treatment of nature is unique in the sense the objects of Nature retain their original identity, ‘neither agreeing nor disagreeing’, and yet symbolise the human consciousness somehow, in forms of an unbearable burden, a death wish or as a truce to her own mortality. ‘Delusions of Camels’ is a memorable example:

They say another storm will come tonight
another layer of white
another weight of wet
clamped tight and cold over all hope
of softening bulbs or green tongues testing
toward springlight.

Out there, pale marmoreal camels rest
lie low in wait
legs lost to sight
hump after hump of patience ruminates
in silent readiness for its next burdening
this arctic night…

Here she goes addressing the maple tree:

Maple yellow, maple red, I see
the killing splendor of your canopy
outside my window as I lie abed
gathering this morning’s go-ahead,
whispering this small apostrophe—

how gracefully you ride time’s tyranny
and know exactly how to be a tree,
rubrics never read, sermons unsaid,
maple yellow, maple red.

Soon you will die, to some degree,
turn prickly gray as colors flee;
but you’ll grow back the brights you shed.
This time next year, I may be dead
while you, most likely once again, may be
maple yellow, maple red.

‘In the Shallows’ is a lyrical dynamite, but it is easy to be fooled by the music of the lilting lines and lose the many threads clouding the poet’s mind:

Long thoughts linger in the shallows,
lollygag along the beach
where the tidal waters whisper
lisp and slur their primal speech…

Cynthia’s oeuvre is not without a clutch of portraits, historical, local, artistic and metaphysical. She has written about people, paintings, months of the year. She has written about being ‘Dumbfounded’, shared painful memories of the past, human frivolousness, and objects the departed leave behind. She excels and revels in wordplay, often developing a full-fledged verse off a subtle twist on connotations. She will not flinch from swiping her brush on deep rooted social customs, or recent frivolities, take a subtle pot-shot, or even chastise.

It was not my intention to impose my interpretations of Cynthia’s art on the readers. I realise I digressed from the part I was telling you about what I found on her blog; perhaps I want you to go there and discover her yourself if you haven’t had already. Cynthia Jobin has also self-published a collection of her works that goes by the title ‘A Certain Age’, you may also want to find that out to keep it with you. For the moment, I will dwell on how my brief association with her enriched my life as a lover of words.

Having read Cynthia’s ghazals, I was spurred to write one of my own, being fond of that poetic form myself. I wrote ‘A Dewdrop Ghazal’ in the June of 2016, ignoring many rules of the format. Cynthia did point out my slippages —which I tried to mend on a later date— but encouraged me wherever she could. I wrote another ghazal, ‘A Byte of Moonshine’, which was not without flaws again, and duly received her endorsement. By that time, she was a patient audience to my monthly outpouring which tended to veer towards the corruption and rot infesting us locally, but she kept blessing my posts with her grace, analysing the fumes and leaving behind precious bits of wisdom. It would be not before November that she would cite some ‘health reasons’, which she updated soon in her next post to ‘cancer—metastasized, terminal’. The poem accompanying the announcement would be an iteration of her chilling foresight, ‘North, early December’:

Let me down easy

the way hints of winter
fall exquisitely today
scattering icy lacy flowers
from a cloud bouquet

flutter, waver just a bit
unhurried and unworried
to get on with it.

And still, it was hard to accept the destructibility of this diva of poetry I had discovered, and I expected to return to her one more time. Then on 6th of December, she posted the most devastating piece on human mortality I had ever read: ‘Night Draws Near: Brother Ass’.

I kept checking her blog off and on thereafter, but there was an ominous quiet on the webpages which had been luminous with the grace of Cynthia.  She who would respond to each of her commentators, hadn’t said a word to any of them for the last two posts. Then on the 21st extant, I read a comment by her old friend Pauline that confirmed our worst fears. In her tribute to the ‘particularly kind’ poetess on her blog, she posted a poem that Cynthia had been meaning to post on her blog herself. ‘The Sun Also Sets’ is a poignant poem on parting, mortality, and of human courage and fortitude in the face of the Grim Reaper.

The cesspool of my work-life would not loosen the strings with which it binds me till the weekend when I sat rereading her blog since the first available entry. As the charger of my laptop hangs like a mallet on the forehead of my wife from the switchboard directly above her head, I removed it once she decided to hug her pillows. I moved from month to month, and then year to year, discovering new patterns and meanings in the verses I knew so well by now. Sometime, as I progressed to the winters of the 2016, the battery did complain a couple of times or so. Sliding down to the last poem Cynthia had written, I became aware of a constriction in my throat. The screen began dimming out in steps, or was it that I had developed too many floaters within my eyes, never a good sign. Overpowered, I moved to the comment box to leave a belated farewell note. But even before I could press a key, the system shut on me completely. I tapped at the keys in vain to revive it, slowly realising I was left with nothing but a cold white slab of metal with a black face, indifferent and inanimate like a relic. As if in a closure, I realised this is how Cynthia too would have been when her soul slipped away to be with her beloved on the 13th of December, 2016.

Someday, this is how we all must be.

 Goodbye, my friend, Cynthia Jobin.

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About umashankar

I am just a watcher then. Sometimes I watch life. Sometimes I watch death. Many times I watch in between...

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51 Comments on “Goodbye, Cynthia Jobin”

  1. Bruce Goodman Says:

    Dear Uma – this is both a stunning critique and a profound farewell to a friend. I do hope that Cynthia, from where ever she may be, is able to pull a few strings and make this reflection the foreword of any further book of poetry of hers that comes out! A curse on you for making me cry before breakfast!

    I know a little bit of your first encounters… I got this message: “Who is this umashankar who clutters up your blog with comments?” I said “Go and see”. It was around the time of your posting a series of haiku that poked fun at those indiscriminate users of the form. She thought they were hilarious. She became an enthusiastic and devoted follower of your artistry.

    I know she challenges both of us to be more genuine, more connected to our worlds and the worlds of others, and better wordsmiths who hammer shapes old and new out of language’s base metals. Your tribute has inspired me as much as her poems themselves to “Go for it!” And I say – Let’s! Let’s go for it! Thank you, good friend.

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Bruce, that is too great an honour you have bestowed upon me, one I deserve not in the least. All I have done is quoted from Cynthia’s poems, and bits about her that she chose to share with us. I could have gone on and on, but it was best to stop and let the readers savour her muse and ride the bitter-sweet waves of her poetry themselves.

      I will remain indebted to you for that friendship that shone upon me briefly yet unforgettably. I will embrace her challenges as hard as I can, and I am sure so will you. I apologise for driving you to tears. You see, I needed a closure too.

      Reply

  2. thecontentedcrafter Says:

    Thank you! Thank you for this moving, heartfelt tribute to our sublime poet and friend. My heart is full and my eyes have filled and overflowed several times as I have followed your poignant reflections and insights into the woman and her work. This eulogy does indeed deserve to be a foreword to any collection of her poems. Aren’t we most fortunate to have been led, somehow, to know her, somewhat! Thank you Umashankar, thank you.

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Thank you for coming this way, Pauline. Knowing that you were so much closer to Cynthia, I can feel the tidal pull of your grief. Again, I have merely quoted Cynthia and the possible meanings of those words but to be able to put a foreword to her multi-faceted art a much deeper and harder enterprise is needed. Yes, we have been most fortunate to have been led, somehow to know her, somewhat! We are all thankful to the Forces that be for letting that light upon us.

      Reply

  3. Gubbinal Says:

    Thank you for writing this. I found it right after I had published something on my own blog. I actually knew her for about 4 or 5 years before she told me that she wrote poetry, although we had been discussing favorite poets for a long time. Thank you again.

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Thank you Gubbinal; I am grateful for your presence here. I read “Let Me Down” by Cynthia Jobin on your blog, the poem that you chose instead of a Christmas poem. As you have said, there is going to be no replacement this time. And as Cynthia would say, with each parting the world is rearranged.

      Reply

  4. Good Golly Miss Molly Says:

    Uma, this is a beautiful elegy in honor of Cynthia Jobin. I thank you for taking time to write it. I did not know her work until this morning but somehow synchronicity and serendipity have combined in what a friend once named synchroserendipity (notice the rose in the center). Your words and hers have touched many things on my mind these past several days. I cannot wait now to read more of her work. And yours. Both of you gifts during these winter holidays.
    Molly

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Synchroserendipity with rose at its heart! Trust you to seep the language in Jazz. I am proud and duty-bound to be an emissary of Cynthia’s notes. I am not surprised her verse has touched you deeply, the poet’s heart that you have. Many thanks to you, Molly!

      Reply

  5. T F Carthick Says:

    Seems to be a wonderful poet. Sorry to hear of the loss.

    Reply

  6. Raj Says:

    Uma… thank you so much for introducing Cynthia to me and for shedding some light on her brilliant works. I was completely mesmerized by her mastery and depth. I felt like I had missed a lot by not reading her so far. I fondly remembered reading your ghazals and marvelling at those. And thank you for such a heart felt tribute to her. May she rest in peace.

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Raj, while you have certainly missed Cynthia’s company in blogosphere, her heart-stopping, melodious poetry is all yours to savour on her blog, and in print in her opus, A Certain Age. Thank you for those kind words, my friend.

      Reply

  7. Ankur Mithal Says:

    Uma, thank you for writing this ode to Cynthia. She has been one of the earliest supporters of my blog, encouraging, praising, rebuking, in her own way and with the weight of her experiences. I discovered many hues of poetry through the outpouring on her blog. I did know of her condition, as many of her regular readers would have, through the message she had posted on her blog. However, secretly I think we all wished she would one day surprise us with a fresh post. Alas, that is not to be. May she RIP.

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Cynthia had incisive understanding of humans and the attendant emotions, motives, capabilities and frailties. That is why she was at ease with people and could empathise quickly with most of us. We have lost a kind-hearted friend and a priceless poet. Amen!

      Reply

  8. The Hook Says:

    Cynthia was blessed to have your friendship, devotion and respect, my friend.

    Reply

  9. Ginene Nagel Says:

    Umashankar, I am deeply moved by this beautifully written tribute to Cynthia Jobin. She was an extraordinary artist/poet. One couldn’t help but realize, immediately upon finding her, that her work stands out head and neck above the crowd and then to wish one had found her sooner. She will continue to enrich my life. I will always carry her voice with me. I will always admire her as a person and a poet.
    ~Ginene

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Unmistakable was her glow and effusive her warmth among the zillion amateurs spread across the internet. Her words and voice will remain with us, just as you say. One only wishes she had lingered a bit more for those cherished tête-à-têtes in the comment threads.

      Reply

  10. Shubha Athavale Says:

    Umashankar, anyone who reads your tribute to Cynthia will have the words resonate with them. The poet shone through her warm and witty personality . Cynthia has enriched the lives of all those who got to know her through her work and comments. I was thrilled when she called me a “versifier”, there will be days when I will miss her terribly and then I will resort to reading/listening to her poems. I was sad that I hadn’t known her personally but I am grateful that I got to interact with her on this blogosphere. Very well written and I hope this tribute of yours becomes the foreword to the new book.

    Reply

  11. dNambiar Says:

    I can feel your pain and I can see how much you will miss reading Cynthia Jobin. What a lovely tribute, USP. And how beautifully you have strung some of her art and hung them up here, for us to savor! Thank you so much for sharing these lines.

    And I must say — reading your writing is such a joy. I’ve got some catching up to do, here, haven’t I? 🙂

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      The thought that there will be no new poems from Cynthia saddens me deeply. I will also miss her footprints on my humble scribbling. Thank you for those kind words.

      Reply

  12. Maliny Mohan Says:

    I am breathing in as I realise that I found my way back to your blog after so long! I was a sloppy blogger for most parts of 2012-2016 and right now, I am again on the full-on blogging mode.
    Coming back to the post, I am overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of those verses by Cynthia, about whom, you have been wonderful enough to explain to us. I wish I knew here long before. Heart-touching tribute to a prolific writer.
    How have you been? I see that you have blogging regularly. Visiting your blog sure took me back a few years 🙂

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Welcome back, Maliny! I am touched by your gesture. I do not know what is sloppy blogging; I believe one writes what one writes. Going back in time, I find much of my scribbling fearfully sloppier. Cynthia was a gifted poet and it was a privilege to have found her favour briefly. Do savour her poems at her blog.

      Despite the mounting challenges, I have been trying to refresh the counter at least once in a month on my blog. Bless you for the encouragement.

      Reply

  13. themoonstone Says:

    This is such a beautiful tribute to such a wonderful poetess. Each poem that you quoted makes you linger on those lines, long after your eyes stop seeing them. The sorrow in the poem of the cat is heart rending. Grief is such a powerful emotion. Her passing away is such a tragic loss.

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      You are right! Her poems do echo in your heart once you have read them. Without You, the Cat is particularly poignant. She may have passed away to be with her mate but the poems she has left behind will keep us brooding.

      Reply

  14. Betty Hayes Albright Says:

    Beautiful tribute to Cynthia. I’m still feeling shock and grief over her passing – but also have the feeling she’s somehow still here in spirit, continuing to encourage us. She would want us to keep writing, sharing, and learning. She would want for us to continue spreading kindness and compassion. And honesty.

    Ah, but at the same time as I feel her presence I miss her just the same. As I know we all will. She was so much more than a wise master poet… She was a force of loving kindness.

    Thank you.

    Reply

  15. umashankar Says:

    Many thanks for your beautiful words, Betty, reminding me of Cynthia’s grace and persona. “I pass and I stay, like the Universe.” (Alberto Caeiro)

    I wish I was allowed to learn from her a few more years. But she has become the Maple Tree somewhere out there, grown back the brights she has shed, maple yellow, maple red…

    Reply

  16. rajnisinha Says:

    would have to read this at least once more to be able to comment —it is a touching tribute and your style makes it more so

    Reply

  17. umashankar Says:

    Thank you for finding time and reading, and those kind words, Rajni Ji.

    Reply

  18. willowwrites Says:

    Such lovely words you have written for your friend. I am prompted to go and seek out this writer because of this. How sad another voice silenced in 2016.
    thank you for passing her on to others.

    Reply

  19. JerseyLil Says:

    Farewell to your friend and poet extraordinaire, Cynthia Jobin! Umashankar, your post is a beautiful and fitting tribute to your friend. I never knew of Cynthia’s blog or poetry but through your deeply heartfelt words and the poetry excerpts you shared from her page, I have a sense of her exceptional talent and generosity of spirit. Such beautiful and poignant poetry, truly some of the best I’ve ever read. She certainly was a gifted wordsmith. “For the sake of the cat” poem tugged at my heart. I went to her blog and read “Night Draws Near: Brother Ass” and it is a “devastating piece on human mortality.” The courage and finality in her words made me think of John Donne’s poem, “Death Be Not Proud.” How sad that her voice will be no more but she leaves behind a legacy of rich poetry and devoted friends and readers. May Cynthia rest in peace with her beloved. Thank you for sharing this with us!

    Reply

  20. umashankar Says:

    Madilyn, I am delighted I was able to guide you to her blog; Cynthia Jobin was truly exceptional. The fortitude with which she pays tribute to wilting ‘Brother Ass’ in the face of the ultimate truth is soul-stirring.

    Cynthia’s poem is radically different from John Donne’s sonnet in her address to the joys of life that was, and an expression of gratefulness to the body for all those years, as against the latter’s outburst seeking to puncture the pride of Death.

    I will miss her poems, her craftsmanship, her passion, her guidance and her grace for many months to come. Thank you for your kind words.

    Reply

  21. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    Hello, Umashankar, I was directed to your blog when looking for a particular poem of Cynthia’s. Thank you for this wonderful tribute ALL of it richly deserved. I read with a perpetual lump in my throat and Without You the Cat always reduces me to tears. I will be giving a brief talk about poetry at our Speaker’s Club and wanted to dedicate it to her. I know I will not be able to get through one of her poems then suddenly remembered the last one in A Certain Age – Acknowledgement. I bought 3 copies of this book on a visit to the US in 2015 – but I gave two away. At least I have her voice, having put the CD in the book into my iTunes, she pops up among the operatic arias and I stop working to listen and sigh.

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Thank you, Hilary. Cynthia’s passing is deeply saddening to her dedicated followers. The only way I could have enlightened my heart was by paying her a tribute at my puny spot here. Like you, Without you, the Cat brings a lump to my throat as well. But it makes me happy too, thinking that she is united with her missing mate after all.

      You must be proud to speak of her at your Speaker’s Club. The closing line of your comment is poetic. It is as poignant as a poem by Cynthia.

      Reply

      • hilarycustancegreen Says:

        Thank you. I don’t have your skill, and I no longer have the ambition, to write poetry these days, but my head and my bookcases are full of the wonderful words others have written.

        Reply

        • umashankar Says:

          Every heart is a poet, the grace of yours is evident in your words. Some of us are blessed in the way we are surrounded by the wonderful words of the others. It gives priceless light and warmth to our souls.

  22. inesephoto Says:

    Thank you for this beautiful tribute. I still cannot come to terms with the fact that there won’t be any new poem posted on Cynthia’s blog. I still visit it.
    Thank you again.

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Perhaps I know how you feel. I find it painful to visit her blog where the eyes must rest on Night Draws Near, Brother Ass. Her blog feels like the city whose denizens have fled. But her poems live there, each of them alive, mirthful or poignant. Thanks for remembering Cynthia together.

      Reply

  23. Durga Prasad Dash Says:

    A fitting tribute.
    May her soul rest in peace.
    Even though I am tempted to visit her blog immediately after reading your post, I am holding myself back right now. It may need unhurried quality time to soak in her poetry. Or, so it seems.

    Reply

  24. Renee Espriu Says:

    What a wonderful homage to this poet. I never had the privilege to read her works but from what I am reading here she was gifted in writing. Thank You for sharing.

    Reply

  25. heatherdawnfineart Says:

    Well I am so sad to discover the news of Cynthia’s passing. I had only a brief encounter with her but she certainly was a bright light to me. I feel that I’ve lost a great deal with her being gone. 😦 Thank you for writing this tribute to her.

    Reply

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