Excerpts from Bosston
On January 15, 2000 The Boston Globe ran a front-page story about the discovery of three bodies buried near I-93 in front of a police station in Dorchester. The victims had been murdered by James “Whitey” Bulger, who ran the Irish mob, controlled drugs in South Boston and who was also a protected FBI informant. The newspaper story about the elusive and by now almost mythic figure of “Whitey” Bulger got me thinking about my thirty years living in this city, about its gangs, its ethnic and racial divisions, the Big Dig, Boston politics and the role this city has played in science, poetry, sports and philosophy. “Whitey” Bulger, ever present, ever absent, above or outside the law, kept morphing in my imagination into other Bostonians, including (among others) Emerson, Thoreau, Cardinal Law, former mayor Kevin White, and former Police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole who promised to work on the plague of neighborhood gang violence killing our youth, but who quickly resigned and moved to Ireland, whose relationship with Boston is best captured by a common Irish phrase, “the next parish over.”
I let myself drift with these associations and built a trilogy of verse novels (Rub Out, Kevin White, and Bosston), using brief prose poem chunks whose open-ended structure and looser, fragmentary style afforded me room to explore what this city has become in my imagination.
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A Roxbury Annunciation was a stray bullet through a second-floor apartment window severing a child’s spine. A Dorchester Pietà found a mother, outside belief and disbelief, outside words and language, draping her child over the metal lap of a wheelchair donated by Dunkin’ Donuts to take the Orange Line to Downtown Crossing.
Police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole and Whitey Butler Yeats were no flight into Egypt with a Cape Verdean child at An Garda Síochana na hÉireann headquarters in Phoenix Park, Dublin. They, each alone, vanished into Boston’s radioactive dream of Irish transcendence. He wouldn’t even put on Rubbermaid kitchen gloves to yank out “Bucky” Barrett’s teeth after he shot him in the head because no one in South Boston ever caught AIDS.
The new IRA was just drugs and Polish whores, ordinary organized crime hiding money from the Criminal Assets Bureau. Sinn Féin disarms, becomes the fastest growing political party, wants seats in the government North and South. How could Whitey Butler Yeats run guns to Belfast on the Valhalla out of Boston and not have known the informer on board who gives it up to the British and make money from both sides? Charlie Haughey’s dead and buried in his French shirts. Developers in the Gaeltacht pay cash and race like Vikings in ribbed inflatables with twin 200 hp Honda outboard engines. After 9/11 FBI and British MI5 share intelligence, honor their deals and informants, themselves alone in a delirious desert. Whitey Yeats ghosts his way around a transcendent west of witness protection. Yeats likes big cars. Northern Ireland has good roads.
Ed Barrett, Senior Lecturer in Writing, has taught at MIT since 1986. The excerpts above are reprinted from Bosston (2008), the final installment of his Boston Trilogy, a sequence of prose poems. He is the author of seven other books of poetry and the general editor of the MIT Press series on digital communication.