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
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.