You think you’re a person, with personality, but you’re a monolith of consciousness. An encapsulated essence. A block of cheese. You’ve lived your last however many lives as an American, and each life is the same as the next, made of the same cheesy amalgam. Number 5 dye, blood, and flesh. You’re forced to begin again, at the beginning, but you’re never given a fresh start. You’re just a tasteless slab of annatto orange; each slice, each life, is indiscernible from the last. America, with her plastic-wrapped decades, is roaring, discoing, free-loving and punking. The latest ‘limited time only’ flavors. Products change — Sundrop Soda becomes Pepsi-Cola. Bullet bras become miracle bras, but Spuds Mackenzie is always selling beer somewhere.

When Roanoke moved in with the natives who showed you how to survive the winter, you gave them blankets. You gave him your body beneath the blanket. You loved him so deeply, so passionately, so desperately, that you didn’t actually love him at all. He was a soapstone amulet. You had your evil eye on him. Next life you came back as your own child, but your son was a warrior, a legend while you, your daughter, died young. In childbirth. Then came the rope and the old oak. You were a woman — again — but in the body of a man.

You did a quick turnaround and tried to return to London, but your husband tossed you overboard during a transatlantic crossing. He took a lover — and your estate. Better that than locked away; trapped in the yellow wallpaper, Next you were Little Miss Muffet, stinking of curds and whey. The man who owned the man who owned the cheese factory said you were pretty enough to be a nurse. So you tended the new baby machines. Hospitals didn’t want incubators, so the inventor brought them out to Coney. You were a sideshow attraction, basically. You and 600 dying babies. You calmed sick infants, while rowdy visitors cavorted around Coney Island. Rides ratcheted, rolled, whooshed and clattered. Riders screamed. Brats started fires in garbage bins, just for the sirens and the hullabaloo when the dwarf fire department came racing in their miniature fire trucks.They marched in a row, hoisting their giant hose. They had pride in their job and so did you. You even wore a pert uniform, and it didn’t matter that you weren’t a real nurse, because no one expected the babies to live.

Some of the babies lived. You know that’s true because the fandangled baby machines are standard issue in every hospital/neonatal unit. In this current incarnation, you once spent the night n a neonatal unit, your hand through the hole, as your newborn gripped your finger until those sharp nails pulled tight and quick on her last breath as the little hand curled and shriveled like a leaf. You don’t remember much about life as a nurse-not-nurse except that one night you spotted a distant ship and inexplicably walked into the ocean.

In the 40’s, you were still in the big apple — a shop girl. You worked at the department store, selling embroidered handkerchiefs, silk stockings and lambskin gloves. All of the ladies wanted the pricey scent made from whale vomit, but few could afford to smell like brine. One day a man purchased two bottles of ocean perfume, one for his wife and one for his mistress. Antonio Napolitano, a ‘made man,’ peeled the plastic from that slice of American cheese. Underneath, you’re vulnerable…a limp skin, pale and fragile. He left fingernail marks in your peachy flesh.

Next, a meteorologist. You went to school and studied hard, but the shop girl is just the weather girl now. Like your foremothers, you wear nylons and spray your hair with Aqua-net. You wear foundational undergarments and beige base on your face. Earth is cooked. The curtain is closing, but you’re still buying maybelline from Walgreens. You still want that cologne eau whale vomit. You’re still weak for the villain. Last slice of American cheese. Bottom of the refrigerator drawer. You’re stuck to the rippled surface. You peel from hard plastic with a sucking sound.


Image generated on Stable Diffusion


Dia VanGunten explores overlaps between genres, between poetry & prose, between real & magical. This piece is part of Pink Zombie Rose, a series of graphic novels about apocalyptic existential angst. @pinkzombierose