7:2: “Palmetto Ridge”, by Ed Gavin

7:2: “Palmetto Ridge”, by Ed Gavin

C‘est vrai, tu dois suffrir
comme une bête dans cette vie.
Nulle autre peut suffi,
mais dis “tout doit suffrir”
et se perds dans la foule
comme le bond dans une boule.

It’s true, you must suffer
like a beast in this life.
None other will suffice,
but say “all must suffer”
and lose yourself in the crowd
like the bounce in a ball.
—S. Montaigne, La Crapaud: Une Nouvelle en Vers

The moon, with its third eye, watched over us
as our balloon passed over Dismal Swamp
with a chorus of mosquitoes buzzing
around us, a malarial thicket.
Lafferty jerked the cord, and with a roar
of the back jets our party surged forward
clinging to the basket. Clara asked me,
“Are you afraid?” light dancing in her eyes.
I heard thunder rumble in the distance
and picked the crusts of dry blood from my scalp,
unable to answer. “My dear child,”
she said, taking my hand. “You are alive
because of Dr Lafferty. Be glad.
Let the dead bury their dead, and be glad.”

But I’d seen severed hands nailed to the pier
with ironclads in Charleston Harbor,
and their voices—the voices of the dead—
continued to torment me, broadcasting
their propaganda from Palmetto Ridge;
I alone could hear this. Their lies carried
a foamy, cloying sweetness and ferment.
The good doctor shook me. “What is it, boy?”
I couldn’t speak. Clara removed a glove
and slapped me, but the world turns gray and still.
I see them all around me now — the dead…
transparent, as I saw them in the marsh:
wounds gaping like mouths, their words spilling out
into my silence. They would complete me.

A needle pierced my arm, injecting stuff
to chase away phantom pains and voices,
to return color to my shades of gray.
The world had stalled; now it moved again.
“He’s coming out of it,” said Lafferty.
“This time was the worst. They’re growing stronger.”
Clara smiled and murmured in my ear
words in another tongue: Tu dois suffrir.
Warmth returned to my body. I leaned back
in her embrace, eyes closed, and tried to breathe.
“You,” said Clara, “will serve as our compass.
Show us the way.” I raised my arm to point
and the signal faded. “They’re recharging,”
I said. “Powering up for the next pulse.”

“If, before we can get there, the signal
kills the boy,” said Clara, “we’ll never find
Palmetto Ridge. It’s not where it once was.”
“They can’t…” said Lafferty, his voice drowning
in the radio waves, “…a whole ridge? No…”
“Haven’t you… their earth movers?” asked Clara.
“Look… the boy… do something… we’re losing him.”
Fade to black: The wings of an angel wilt
as I evolve. My hands have become wings.
I scurry across the night, its sharp edge
will plunge blossoms into columns of smoke;
phrases of stone linked by mason’s trowel
to my ashes and this — a chrysalis.


I sound the fathoms of night air with clicks
and pursue my prey with acrobatics
under the moon’s third eye; I can taste death–
the malarial thicket crowns my tongue.
Her voice, pressed like olives into service,
lubricated my brain; I raised my arm
and aimed our balloon towards the Eiffel
on Palmetto Ridge before succumbing
with that spire to the flashes of bombs,
our silhouettes now by fate entangled
as I evolve. My hands have become wings.
I grapple with the night, how they used me…
this, my overdose, received in exchange
for radio silence. Tout doit suffrir.


Ed Gavin works nights at a pub and burrito joint in the Greater Lansing Area, with the kitchen for his hothouse and blank verse for orchids. He once read Confederates in the Attic, and it troubled him. “The Palmetto Ridge Exchange” sprouted months later. Ed composed this poem at work, writing the stanzas down on 15-minute breaks, skipping his dinner to finish the rest. His credits include “Passage to Jamaica” and “The Pulse,” both forthcoming in The Magazine of Speculative Poetry.

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