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Richard St. John: The Tao to Disneyland 

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 .

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (Toadi Acceleratio Semper Absurda) was a favorite attraction at Disneyland for generations. (source: Theme Park Tourist)

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