Todd Mercer was nominated for Best of the Net in 2018. Mercer won 1st, 2nd
& 3rd place of the Kent County Dyer-Ives Poetry Prizes and the won Grand
Rapids Festival Flash Fiction Prize. His digital chapbook Life-wish Maintenance
is posted at Right Hand Pointing. Recent work appears in: The Magnolia Review,
The Pangolin Review, Praxis and Soft Cartel.

The Central Artery

They met on the Red Line train,
one got off in Chinatown, the other
rode it to the southern terminus. It takes
big shoulders to hold the tracks' weight
off the city's chest and abdomen.
That's a slender slip of minutes,
if outbound from the center Loop,
but from the Northern spur
sufficient interlude to activate
enchantment measures, cleaner-burning
dopamine. One had business
on the surface, down platform stairs,
past Wentworth Gate, a breath of oxygen,
a speck there, then a spectre, a fantasia,
for commuters riding circuits,
in but not of the city, in but barely above.

Nighthawks Diner Staff Report

This dive never closes, not on Sunday, not for Christmas.
We run a skeleton crew weeknight graveyards. We serve
a trickle of customers, talkers and those who mind
their own matters. Flora's a chameleon
with a mood to match each after-hours type—insomniacs
early-bird go-getters here for eggs and basic coffee
and comfort of routine. I keep the orders straight
during our few rushes—
burger, sandwich, hash-browns, bacon.
After 1 a.m. it's doldrums-slow in there,
flat seas without wind, horse latitudes.
I am making glacial progress
between being Some Guy From Work
and becoming Someone Special
Flora met while slinging saturated fats
to nighthawks, while shining light
on the light-starved of this city. I'm sizzling
back here, damp shirt-sleeves from plating,
pinging the Order-Up bell.
Flora calms them down, she brings them up
when necessary. She's their proxy sister
or their scolding aunt. She could be
my highway angel, if we found a couple other
skeletons to run this place at night.

The Evaporation Artist

Stumbling out of Chinatown, day-streaked,
blurry-edged, explaining in the offing,
a disappearance mystery. Man pops from urban wormholes.
Exhibit one: Friday by the Wentworth Gate, carrying
a plan and pocket money. Recent memory's limited
to disconnected flashbulb images, fast talk
in two languages. Zap. Next clearheaded moment,
Monday, waking beneath Red Line tracks, condensed
from vaporous to solid, without phone or train fare,
Mister Mist here gets started on foot. Hoofin' it's penance.
Repetition re-acclimates him to the world
that runs on clocks. Bound for the North Side,
shoe leather, weekend expended. Days dissolved
into ether. The refuge is another country,
tucked into a hollow of the regular city.


This job is a sagging Second Empire project,
tear-down to the frame. The contractor
found notes from other decades affixed
to supporting joists. In a bedroom closet,
behind drywall: ranks of hash-marks
drawn on old plaster. Fifty of them,
grouped in fives. An indictment from a domestic
captive? Math homework done by a child
who's now elderly if still with us, gone to Florida?
The contractor pulls rusty nails, sledgehammers
a non-bearing wall out. The new owners
want to leave the outside as it was,
but they're forward-facing, want high ceilings
and open spaces. In half an hour the hash-marked
plaster is out in the dumpster, which is fine.
That's what happens, years are passing. Written records
persist 'til time erases origins, context, meaning.
This carpenter who grew up in a rambling Tudor,
since demolished, wants to leave the door-frame
in place, where height marks of someone's growing children
line much of the rise. He sighs and does the job
he bid for. Guts it to the ribs, carves a fresh place,
ripe for imprinting, airy.

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