Now You Are a Miss­ing Person

  • Review
By – October 17, 2023

Begin­ning at a Ven­tu­ra Boule­vard post office and end­ing with a pil­grim­age from Ari­zona to New Mex­i­co, this mem­oir-in-verse takes read­ers on a jour­ney sprin­kled with encoun­ters — with the famous, the not so famous, and the close to being famous. Susan Hay­den does not val­orize these fig­ures, but depicts them as fal­li­ble fel­low trav­el­ers on a twist­ing road that includes Judaism, lone­li­ness and desire, rock and roll, long­ing and loss, and, above all, a quest for meaning.

At once wry and poignant, the book’s ear­ly sec­tions recre­ate the expe­ri­ence of the tail-end sub­set of the Boomer gen­er­a­tion. These not-quite Gen Xers grew up in the midst of flower pow­er, and they began to come of age when the polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al may­hem of the ear­ly sev­en­ties meld­ed — in a slight­ly gar­bled fash­ion — with the rem­nants of Wood­stock idealism: 

[ … ] I’d entered a new dimen­sion. There was a hand-paint­ed school bus parked out front,

a bath­tub stuffed with nas­tur­tiums, bohemi­ans hanging

with Vets just home from Viet­nam, jam­ming on guitars, 

reflect­ing on bat­tle scars, smok­ing hand rolled cigarettes

and grass.

Lat­er poems, such as the one that ref­er­ences Jim Mor­ri­son, invoke the threat of death and loss. Hayden’s hus­band dies in an avalanche, and, in a cru­cial poem, she enlists sim­ple objects to depict her devastation: 

The Search and Res­cue crew hand­ed me the bag

like a for­got­ten sand­wich. I held it for days;

a Zip-Loc of belong­ings: his taxi wal­let, damp

from melt­ed snow with twelve, crisp hun­dred-dol­lar bills, 

week­end cash to pay for my 45th birthday. 

Through­out the col­lec­tion, Hay­den remains laser-focused on the imme­di­a­cy of par­tic­u­lar moments. She rais­es urgent ques­tions: How do we hon­or loss? How should per­son­al his­to­ry be remem­bered? And final­ly, in what ways can Jew­ish iden­ti­ty enhance both our aes­thet­ic and spir­i­tu­al under­stand­ing of the world? 

Hayden’s mem­oir is fas­ci­nat­ing, mov­ing, and rewarding. 

Discussion Questions