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.

Nightswimmer, East of the Eastern Shore

Swimming in the eastern ocean on a day off during work-travel,
he hits a rip current unlike what he'd dealt with at home. Rides it.
Nightswimmer's clothes and car keys, stowed in sawgrass, draw the signal
of a beachcomber's metal detector. A freelance prospector on dawn rounds.
Meanwhile several zip codes down shore, Nightswimmer rolls in unconscious
with the high-tide wash. There's death beat again. A gamble, but he wakes.
Unspecified miles back to the hotel. The guy is many meridians from home.
Smarter people don't have problems of this nature in excess of once—
the Nightswimmer's inner critic pipes up. And scared people wouldn't try—
counters the inner self-promoter he can't root out of there. Misplaced pride.
Daybreak on Delmarva, unsure which side of the state line,
walking the coast road in his swim trunks, bound to find the way.

The Salesmanship is Taking on Water

Johnny come lately. Every other
mother-lover who said we'd see them here
either No/Call-No/Showed or is caught
in traffic. It's not statistically likely
but I take their excuses at face value.
Same as yours. This is no way
to run a Sales Meeting. Our team
earns an F-plus in Commitment. It isn't
what I want to report to Corporate
—zero progress since my hires care less.
Cancel this one, pencil in tomorrow,
noon sharp. It's all-hands and mandatory.
Back to nuts/bolts, bring those insights,
it's A-games only. The market is tight.
I shouldn't have to tell you who our
toughest rivals are or how they eat
you sons-of-bitches' lunches
while you slack it. Folks who return
phone calls prevail. Those jackals are driven
to succeed, not like you easy-goers
with your mental health days off
and passive issues with authority.
Don't force me to go Glengarry on you
—third prize is you get to keep your job.
Everyone's expendable, so lob an effort
up there, people. Look alive, like John.

The Sexton is Gone But Not Quite Gone

After the Sexton passed on and was buried
at his workplace, and the interim sexton
was mowing around his headstone,
his friends remembered him in the mode
of little stories they'd relate when they converged.
Before he was gone he liked to think of them
visiting each other a few hours
when their schedules permit it. Somewhere
in the mix, two minutes of laughs
about a screwed-up road trip with him,
a project which turned sideways. He died
knowing he'd made impressions to last
as long as his people still crossed paths.
That's the most we can manage, to stave off
complete disappearance for short years
past the right-hand date chipped into granite.
Memories of friends—where we live
when anecdotes stand in for heartbeats.

Jimmy in Zero Gravity

Jimmy at fourteen, visiting a cottage island
in the St. Clair River. It's the pinching funnel
below Lake Huron. Canada is billed correctly
as the land of perfect manners. To be polite
the kid sister of an astronaut invited him
to swim with her and a cousin from Toronto.
Or maybe they were bored. Highlight
of the weekend: the tip-to-tip flotilla.
Folks on air rafts, inner tubes,
launch from the north point
into current nearly too fast to manoeuver in.
From the water they pass the second houses
of autoworkers and bank managers,
poised to paddle in near the south end.
A miss could mean a trip to Lake Erie
in the wakes of iron ore freighters.
Jimmy cut it uncomfortably close,
scared the bejesus out of himself
but acted as if he'd planned the almost-botched
beach landing. The astronaut's kid sister
was impressed. She took his hand after,
when they were back on her family's dock.
They talked and heard rock songs drift
from the cars of Canadian delinquents
across the water at the ferry landing.
She explained how zero gravity
makes everything different than you know it.
Jimmy could feel his young soul
was next-to-weightless in this environment.
St. Clare and him with feet dangling in a fast river,
under stars he'd like to see from space.

Back to Front.