Apartment Poetry Quarterly

2A              2B              2C              2D              2E              2F


2F M. Mack



Milquetoast, n.
a bland, timid, or ineffectual person easily dominated
from Caspar Milquetoast, character in H.T. Webster's
The Timid Soul comic strip, 1924 to 1931
and later, Milquetoast the cockroach, purple crossdressing character in
Berkeley Breathed's comic strips Bloom County and Outland, 1980 to 1995


Little Generals

(Milquetoast is dressed for an evening out. He teeters on his enormous high heels, searching the stage.)

Milquetoast: Opus?

(The Poet enters, with enormous pen and tablet.)

The Poet: Here is my opus.

Milquetoast: Don't make me a metaphor.

The Poet (writes this down): What would you like instead?

(Milquetoast stands beside The Poet and begins calling again for Opus.)

Milquetoast: Opus? Opus?

The Poet: Here.

(The Poet lays hir tablet down beside Milquetoast. Milquetoast climbs astride, his enormous feet filling the enormous page. Meanwhile, The Actor enters the stage, strides to center, and stands behind Milquetoast.)

The Actor: I speak from behind a character.

Milquetoast (craning his neck to stare back and up at The Actor): Don't make me a metaphor.

The Poet: I am a metaphor.

(Behind The Actor, behind Milquetoast, The Memory of Milquetoast the Man shimmers and slurps.)

The Memory of Milquetoast the Man (noticing The Audience beginning to notice him): Don't make me a character.

(The Poet stares at The Memory of Milquetoast the Man. The Poet bends down to pull the tablet from beneath Milquetoast's enormous feet. As The Poet pulls the tablet, The Poet speaks.)

The Poet (hir head as high as Milquetoast): I speak through a character.

(The force of The Poet's breath, combined with the pull of the tablet from beneath his feet, causes Milquetoast to stagger backward. The Poet stands straight and steps to where Milquetoast had stood.)

Milquetoast the Cockroach: I am a character, standing here. I was standing there.

The Poet Milquetoast: I am a metaphor—

The Actor: Standing before you.

(The Tits giggle and scurry across the stage. The Actor observes them, covers the scar holes with The Actor’s hands. The Poet crosses hir arms across hir chest, shifts and stares.)


Sideshow: Milquetoast Recruits Brood II

Milquetoast, discovering a self alone on the stage, decides to enact a few recent experiments with the before-and-after body for The Audience. Milquetoast leads a set of cicadas onto the stage. The Memory of Milquetoast the Man drools in a ringmaster's top hat, leans on a white-tipped cane downstage.

Milquetoast (gestures to the specimens and addresses The Audience): I, too, have had a body, and then a different body.

The Memory of Milquetoast the Man: Imagine getting stuck in your new body like a pair of jeans stuck around your ankles, fish-flopping to the bed not an option.

The cicadas, hearing the world flop, attempt back flips.

Milquetoast: Imagine wearing a new body inside your old body. Your new body must emerge sometime, right?

When Milquetoast begins to consider wings, the emergence of wings, he shifts uncomfortably in his trampy tuxedo coat. He is still unable to pinpoint the precise moment of transformation. He cannot show The Audience these little bodies becoming others.

The cicadas are squirming on their backs, unaccustomed to their new costumes. Some of them fly their clumsy flight across the stage.

Observing the possibility of wings, Milquetoast slowly realizes that he is the one on the circus stand. It is sized for a man or a larger animal, not suitable for the insect troupe he'd imagined. He hops deftly down, exits the stage.

The Memory of Milquetoast the Man has a broom, not a white-tipped cane. He sweeps the cicadas along the stage floor.

The Audience considers weight, considers that when Milquetoast the man changed shapes, he reduced in mass, became more mobile.


Interlude: Transformation Narrative

(Milquetoast is on the stage. The Audience is unsure of what observables happen next.)

The Actor (enters and approaches): Milktoast?

Milquetoast (softly): What toast?

(The Tits bring a tray of milktoast and memory. Milquetoast and The Actor observe this, the way The Tits balance the tray and rumble along beneath it. The Tits deliver the tray to Milquetoast. The Actor observes this.)

Milquetoast (He sighs and begins slurping. His mustache gleams with the mess of it.): This toast.

(The Memory of Milquetoast the Man shrinks and shivers. Milquetoast the cockroach, nude, purple, and neutral, is the size of the spoon's head. Milquetoast quicks and quivers. Milquetoast observes the milktoast. The Actor observes Milquetoast. The Audience is still unsure what is observable.)

The Actor: Is this how it happened? Meekly over a tray of milktoast?

Milquetoast (straightens his tiny purple shoulders): I chose the wig. I selected the dress.

(The Audience pays attention to something else for a while.)


Sideshow: Milquetoast Joins Brood II

Seeing an empty stage again, Milquetoast constructs a circus once more. He leads the cicadas onto the stage. He drags out bottle-caps this time, one for each. They climb up onto them. The effect is something like choir risers.

Milquetoast: Having constructed harnesses, I am much better prepared for strapping on—

The Tits titter past.

Milquetoast: for flight.

And with that, Milquetoast mounts. One giant insect atop another. (All is relative.)The Audience finds this curious, considers again the potential of wings on the back, the curious itch there.

When the cicada takes off, it crashes a few feet away under the weight of wings, the weight of pilot. Milquetoast stands, smooths his squiggled antennae, staggers away from the slime. The Memory of Milquetoast the Man wipes his chin from the wings—the stage wings—fearful the slime is his.

Milquetoast: There are millions of them. I never considered myself a predator.

Milquetoast exits. Cicadas exit opposite.


Interlude: Milquetoast Wonders on Dissociation

Today, Milquetoast wonders if he has skin. If he bleeds. He wants to cover all of himself. He doesn’t want to see any purple, any nude. The questions are overwhelming. Milquetoast, the complex system; his limbs, the simple parts. His arm, his arm, his arm looks strange. So do the other three. Which ones are legs. What do his antennae think of the wig? Do they resent him this quiet? He slips into her coverings, slides her shoes onto his feet like he’s proud of them. She wears this comfort like a shroud.



When the ambulance of memory and distance comes roaring toward, its sirens swinging, The Poet wants resources.

The Poet (to Milquetoast on hir shoulder): Help me plug my ears so I don’t hear the sirens singing toward us.

The Poet (to The Actor by hir side): Teach me to remove my ears.

Milquetoast is on The Actor’s shoulder. They stand far away. They don’t have to refuse.


The Actor (the two Actors speak together amidst the wailing and the lights): It’s not the ears. It’s the eyes.

The Actor has ears and also eyes. So does The Actor. The scar holes prism the lights.


The Actor: You never taught us to collaborate.

But Milquetoast is on The Actor’s shoulder, hopping in small tight circles, flashing purple and red. This Ambulance exits.


The Poet on the quiet stage with the approaching quiet.

Milquetoast realizes that in a half an inch of water, he would surely drown.