“Alleys” by Michael Constantine McConnell, which appears on page 140 of Solace in So Many Words, is filled with compelling characters so when I heard there were other published pieces on this family, I immediately read them, and wanted to share them. “King of the Gypsies” appeared in Blood & Honey Review and “Field Trip” was published in The Cleveland Review.
Here, Michael shares “Elegy for Gus,”which was originally published in Conte— it is a sestina combining several prose memoirs that the chronicle the fall of a great city and a great family.
Michael is a writing teacher by day, musician and singer in raucous Scotch-Irish bands by night. Born and raised in Detroit, he currently lives, loves, and plays in the awesome city of Denton, TX.
Elegy for Gus
“Jesus Christ, Mary,” my grandfather screamed,
drunk but not much numb. “I can’t take the pain
anymore.” He called Grandma a whore
and sent her for pliers. “If that bastard
dentist can do it, so can I.” I heard
his tooth’s root, rotting in pulp, splinter
free. Light tripped through stained glass and splintered
blue gloss across the floor’s wood slats. Gus screamed,
cursed, spit blood through his fingers, and heard
the children’s wide-eyed silence. His dull pangs
hung over through the evening. “Poor bastard,”
I thought, years after, when he died a whore’s
death: alone, regretting. He once yelled, “whore,”
taunting Grandma with a wrench. Floor splintered
into my foot when I ran. “If that bastard
hurts her, we’ll kill him,” we whinnied and screamed.
The hollow walls whispered our singing pain
until, like moon hoar at night, we heard
a calm ceasure. Next mornings, I’d always hear
birds chirp, brilliant colors, the cats whoring.
My grandmother would bake cakes with pains-
taking decor. I still taste cream splintered
in fudge sponge. Once, after my bald hands screamed
through gravel, she salved the bastard
wounds and, to comfort me, sang: … God’s bastard
shed man love with his lust to be heard …
He could not help but to scream;
his god’s hands nailed him to boards and hoarded
his beaten shell. Blood ribbed the splintered
back after his awareness fled the same pain-
filled world that was Grandma’s solitary bane.
By evenings, she’d pray: “Please keep the bastard
sober.” Grandmother’s faith and heart splintered
toward two men – one dead and one dying. I heard
Gus’s last words to his nurse. “You whore,
bump my bad leg more, I’ll kill you,” he screamed,
shifting the pain. Moments later, I heard
his breaths and bastard self-pity cease. No hordes
mourned in silence once splintered by his screams.