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.

Dry Dock [Nightswimmer Series, #3]

Nightswimmer, frozen out of the big lake through winter
feels as if his evolution is shrink-wrapped, his fuel drained,
replaced with antifreeze for the season. He swore
to never leave the mitten state, but come February
he visualizes warmer beaches. He could do his thing
without interruption of ice cover.
What's the indoor analogue to swimming out
until it's almost too far to swim back in? Nothing,
so far. Some people pay therapists, others swallow pills,
or pick fights in Comments sections. Some drive
like douchebags in response to disappointment.
Nightswimmer floats in suspension, doesn't sustain
new hull damage, doesn't refurbish or renovate
himself as snow flies outside. A Caribbean version
of the avocation is a persistent notion. For someone
else to realize. He won't change, because the best water
is the lake named for the state whose people point to
spots on their hand to show home, or home beach.
Like everybody else, Nightswimmer picks his favorite
recurring struggle. He stays with ingrained currents,
in-flows, rip tides, winds. He's dormant 'til spring.

Footage at 6 and 11 [Last of the Nightswimmer Series]

A few of The Nightswimmer's friends knew the means he used
to test himself against waves for the presence of sufficient life-wish.
Some saw him cross from Manitou to mainland,
when the surf warning was active. A couple confidants
thought his reach would wash him up. That would be that.
But no, he finishes as the subject of a Coast Guard search and rescue.
A helicopter diver, literal savior from nowhere,
drops into the story. A plot cheat. Footage at 6 and 11,
local TV station Haircuts beam out live coverage.
The unconscious Nightswimmer's face visible for viewers
when the chopper lands on Munson Hospital's roof.
That's a restricted area, but the news crews get there anyway.
Out on the airwaves, a mention on the national news.
The end of having the lake to himself. Those midnight dips
that turned into endurance tests—prohibited. Over forever.
If not for intervention from the sky. Signs to stop gambling
with death. The same Haircuts hound him in his driveway,
after he's discharged. "Get better questions," is all he tells them.
Nightswimmer no longer swims at night, or when a riptide
tugs his memories toward Chicago. He's forced to find
a new reminder to keep loving life. He looks inland
for answers to frame the situation, sustaining metaphors.
Almost gone, preserved by chance. Sure he wants to stay on earth,
Nightswimmer halts the testing, lets his suit drip dry.


Even Ingenue's been there at least once already—heartbreak.
In response she walked however long. First the length of Shenandoah,
ridgeline spines that led to other trails of thought. She sent her folks
postcards from the Bitterroots, from Adirondack lodges. She prayed
but wasn't sure who listened. Self-sustaining, mainly,
less one frantic wire transfer request, from a smallish Oregon town's
ten bed hospital, downed by poison mushrooms, deathly ill.
She beat that threat. She walked through the whole heartbreak,
That's done, she's not destroyed, too jaded. On to her next phase,
thoroughly engaged with the city she loves. Ingenue was balancing
on the Appalachian crest, mist of sorrow from her lungs
absorbed by the thinner air. Altitude is what you need,
she'd say, fixed now, still a hoper. It's easier to see up there.
All you need is step and step and step.

Open Vein Theater

I won't implore you, plead like James Brown
down on one knee, apparently felled by a swell
of raw emotion. I refuse to hunch or buckelo
just off the stage floor 'til a concerned assistant
drapes my shoulders with a coat, urges me
to rise and recompose. No Kabuchi dramatics
for our present situation. I asked, yes, I did ask,
but I'm not begging. Not the same matter.
I've been putting one leg in front of the other
since long before this crossroads conference.
There's still a little leather left to wear off
these shoes. I'm not the Godfather of Soul,
more like Soul's cranky uncle. So I give.
Please, baby, oh please baby—there,
I said like your singers do.
Be convinced, or wish me well and go.
No one needs to lift me if I swoon.

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