I 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:
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.
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
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.