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Were I sufficiently wise
I would follow the Great Way
and only fear going astray
— Lao-Tzu, Tao Te Ching
On the way West, ten thousand scenes arose
then disappeared in the rearview mirror.
We didn’t know the ice caps were melting.
Or that the cities would burn in ’68.
Everything was new and white and waiting.
My sister, seven, sprawled across
the station wagon’s cloth back seat.
I was five and further back – trapped
with the steaming, snoring body of our dog.
Up front, our mom doled out
ice cubes & wax-papered sandwiches. My father
crossed the double line to pass, by breathless inches,
every car we caught. He smoked Chesterfields,
stubbed them in the dashboard’s fold-down cup.
Hung his sunburned arm outside,
palm open to the rushing air.
On days we didn’t camp, we watched for motel signs
that advertised a pool. I don’t remember swimming much;
just the chugging ice machines; our plastic buckets
brimming with bright gems, as we ran down the halls.
How proud we were, when father took our offerings,
dropped them in his three-inch amber of Old Forester,
while mother rummaged in a suitcase for her bathing cap.
Somewhere, getting gas in Colorado, they drove off
without us, joking in stage-lines that they thought
we, hiding, heard: “Oh, I wonder where those children are.
They’re so quiet in the back.” Panicked, they returned
and found my sister calmly counting pocket change,
as I stood small and troubled by the Esso pumps,
breathing the sharp, sweet fumes.
Dinosaur park in Cedar Rapids, Corn Palace
in South Dakota. Badlands – boring – on and on.
At Yellowstone, we posed for photos by a sign
that listed hours “Old Faithful” would erupt. It felt
like years: waiting for the geyser – rising
then subsiding, with its tingling sulphur smell.
The dog, off leash, had run to reach the bubbling
hot springs’ edge – then yelped and licked its paws.
Disneyland at last: The draw-bridged entry! Monorail!
Tom Sawyer’s cave. Gators on the Jungle Cruise. Natives
passing in canoes. Snack-bar at the Matterhorn.
Log ride down a flume. The heat. The whirling
Alice Teacups. At the Frontierland saloon. real horses
drank stale water from a trough. A sudden bang!
as bad guys robbed the bank. I got a holster, cap gun,
caps – six rolls of paper tape with small red blisters,
sprocket holes. Long winding lines to see Tomorrowland.
Parade on Main Street! Pastel fireworks, dancing Dwarves.
Snow White, in spotlight, waving from the castle porch.
Outside the grand and ghoulish entry to Toad Hall,
I whined…I cried…I wailed: I didn’t want
to go on “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” (whatever that was).
But we had bought the tickets. As my father scowled,
they strapped me in a Model-T. It wobbled, steering wheel
that turned but didn’t steer, as we were pulled along
through gas-lit London, under falling barrels, crashing
through collapsing walls, and only mother’s presence
soothed my stifled sobs. We took the tram train
to the parking lot. We couldn’t find the car.
We barely talked. I sleepwalked in the dark, but walked.
Copyright 2022 Richard St. John
Richard St. John’s newest collection of poems, Book of Entangled Souls, is forthcoming from Broadstone Books in June 2022. For the latest information, please visit: http://richardstjohnpoet.com .