“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,
jam-packed
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
Over-the-Hill,
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