“Borrowing Sugar” by Susan Hayden

I used to borrow sugar,
or try to
Not from just anyone;
from “entertainers”
in the neighborhood
They lived
in sprawling, ranch-style homes
with aerial views,
front yard aquariums
and life-sized statues
Leon Russell, on Woodley
The Jackson Five, on Hayvenhurst
Tom Petty on Mooncrest
Affluence and intimacy–
a false sense of security:
That was the real Encino

Never had a strategy,
only an impulse
I wasn’t even developed
Was nine/ten/eleven–
playing house with
a Betsey Clark folding scene
and Hallmark reusable stickers,
the inspirational kind
that said things like:
“Every Day Is A Gift From God,”
“Showered With Blessings”
and “I Believe In Miracles”

I was an anomaly
in the West Valley
A trickster
with a two-spirit nature,
a Technics turntable
and a Barbie suitcase,
with personal belongings–
a sheltered freewheeler,
seeking access
and the thrill of the hunt
And I was a bolter,
always running away,
just for a little while

Mostly I was
a New Romantic,
the sameness of my fate
as yet to be determined
Love was someone else’s story
carved in a spiral groove
on a vinyl platter
and so I borrowed sugar
or tried to
but instead
dogs barked, alarms rang out
and I was escorted off Private Property,
released back into
“The Ranch of the Evergreens”
–Los Encinos–
encircled by the Transverse Ranges,
surrounded by the nouveau riche

For months, years,
my measuring cup stayed empty;
roaming the streets of the 91316
where “It’s A Wonderful Life”
was shot
long before anyone was ever
borrowing sugar
South of Ventura,
Liberace had a piano-shaped pool
Let me swim in it once
Called me “Sweetie”
North of Valley Vista,
the gulleys and ditches
connecting flatland to hillside
were hideouts,
wishing wells of early faith–

Faith in the power of Everything
cancelled out by a voice saying,
“You’re Nothing”
Words of my brother,
brazenly dealing weed and coke
from his bedroom window,
dispensing insult and harm
to the one most in need
of protection
He tried to teach me
that Goodness was impermanent,
on loan
but I had my stickers to remind me
of another way of thinking;
I had love songs in my head
that gave fair warning
but made Big promises
When the lunatic moon
touched my brother,
converting him from a tender boy
into the Opposite of Sugar,
it was songs and sweets
that pulled me across

When not borrowing,
I was busy eating:
Hostess cupcakes, Fruit pies,
Sno-balls, Twinkies,
Zingers, Donettes
I was addicted to sugar
It made me bold and shy
Empowered me
Sedated me
Borrowing sugar equaled escape
from an unsafe home
Fleeing risk by risking
was better than staying put

The in-crowd lived elsewhere,
that much was clear
in woodsy canyons
with more shade and less heat
Jackson Browne was on Outpost Drive;
Joni Mitchell, on Appian Way
I wanted to be free and in the clouds
but was relegated to Royal Oaks
with its lion’s head door knockers
and central air conditioning
and I learned how to work my way in
by saying things like:
“Lend me some sugar,
I am your neighbor”

It was my only way around
a set of circumstances:
In search of the sweetness
from someone else’s life
whose whereabouts were hidden
but known to me
That’s how it started,
this borrowing sugar
That’s how it started,
this running away.

–Susan Hayden

© 2012


  1. lkthayer · February 14, 2012

    Susan…nothing is sweeter than this poem and you! Precious photo, precious poem, precious friend!! Love you, Lisa 🙂

  2. Alexis Rhone Fancher · February 14, 2012

    Absolutely stunning! Thank you, Susan, for starting off my day with this poem. From one “Valley Girl,” (Topanga) to another, Brava!!!!!

  3. paula · February 14, 2012

    an absolute delight to read
    thank you

  4. Stephen · February 14, 2012

    Another beautiful honest naked expression of poetry from you Susan.
    You reveal yourself
    and your motives in a very unique way.
    You are a beautiful soul
    and the images stick with me
    my sweet friend the sugar is within your sweetness as a being
    you need look no further.
    They would have been fortunate and lucky if you borrowed they sugar but instead they would get the sugar because i know many of them and you have more to offer than they do.

  5. Tammy Zemlyn · February 14, 2012

    Susan, what a gifted writer you are. I feel fortunate to have been there at certain times of your young life. Keep writing these gems. They are real and true….and you. Love, Tammy Z.

  6. Susan Hayden · February 14, 2012

    Thankyou all so much for your heartfelt responses.. ❤

  7. Fred Whitlock · February 15, 2012

    Suger, food, loneliness and the endless search for connection – you capture it so well – in one way or another many of us wandered the streets w/ our empty cup looking for something sweet to fill it. took some time to figure out and accept the fact – that we could fill ourselves and that was just fine.

  8. Mason · February 15, 2012

    Insightful and sophisticated writing. It’s come so far since the first draft, which was good to begin with. Especially love the “lunatic moon” and the references to Liberace and “It’s A Wonderful Life.” ❤

  9. Patrician McCarthy · February 16, 2012

    Beautiful. Love your writing, and your essence. Always.

  10. Jerry Garcia · February 16, 2012

    What a stone groove you are Susan. You never fail to touch the bittersweet spot of my inner-16-year-old.

  11. Alan · February 16, 2012


    What a beautiful and compelling poem. I had been consumed by the reveries that swerved in my head as I first heard and read Borrowing Sugar. Memories of my childhood that were once dorment from the Valley reappeared. Thank you for inviting them back in.

  12. Susan Hayden · February 17, 2012

    Deeply touched by your comments ❤ !!

  13. Cliff · February 17, 2012

    “Lyric poets perpetuate the oldest values on earth,” says poet Charles Simic. “They assert the individual’s experience against that of the tribe” — Ann Sexton most likely would have chimed in, from time to time, in much the same breath. You point out those experienced things with a craft that renders the pain endured by such nailing down of the self in fractured Post-Modern time, well . . . a thing of the past.

  14. Lilli · February 18, 2012

    Susan –

    I absolutely adore this poem. It is beautiful, lyrical, playful, magical. 🙂 I can’t get over
    “A trickster
    with a two-spirit nature,
    a Technics turntable
    and a Barbie suitcase,
    with personal belongings.”

    Lovelovelove this and you! Can’t wait to hear more! xx

  15. jakki · February 27, 2012

    susan- thank you for sharing this with me.
    it’s so naked and beautiful.

  16. Leslie Thayer · March 11, 2012

    This poem is just genius, Susan! It just transports me into your space… which is a place I can relate to so well, get and grasp with your words. Really remarkable work!!!

  17. John · March 11, 2012

    Wow! What a portrait of time and place and Being. . . . . .

  18. Susan Hayden · March 11, 2012

    Thanks so much, Leslie. This is a piece that I will never believe is completely finished. It’s come a long way since I read the outline of it at Poetry In Motion for Reunion of the Vets. It was not ready to be out there that night and I tried to beg off, but your amazing sister encouraged me to get behind it with my whole self–so I did–and later, when approaching the rewrite, I used her words to infuse me and it..

    • lkthayer · March 11, 2012

      Aww, sweet Susan! I love this poem!

  19. Leslie Thayer · March 11, 2012

    SO glad she pushed you along… her insight was correct and her power a force of nature… lol… xoxo

  20. Debra Swihart · March 11, 2012

    I so appreciate the courage it takes to put your private thoughts down and share them so that someone else might experience your words and through it get to know themselves better. After reading this I know you better and I know me better. Thank you.

  21. Susan Hayden · March 12, 2012

    My (measuring) cup runneth over !!

  22. bobby · March 16, 2012

    that was a pleasure to read… Just another layer of the onion peeled away… thanks for sharing…

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