In Memory of Whitey Bulger

Raking wet leaves into heaps
isn’t like harvesting souls
or combing the ocean for pearls.
The air shivers with effort.
The leaves still hostage to trees
rattle in dull old colors
painters abandoned when abstract
expressionism stripped the land.

You rake as hard as I do but
with conviction I can’t muster
except as a crude memorial.
The famous gangster I met
decades ago in a Southie bar
has died in prison, his corpse
a mangle of obscene gestures
inflicted by friends of enemies.

I’m raking these leaves in memory
of the beer he bought me, a glass
of Miller’s on tap. He murdered
eleven people and subverted
the FBI with his ghostly charm
and surefooted gift of gab.
His small talk was a tombstone
of the purest Carrara marble.
His eyes were flakes of mica
iridescent in the low bar light.

I rake the leaves so pungently
they decay right here at my feet.
You never met him, never saw
half of Boston cringe in his breath,
big men dropping their feral gaze,
women shrinking in the new clothes
they’d bought in Filene’s Basement.
The drab October afternoon
falls on its face and whimpers.

You sense the change in the air
but don’t realize how the death
of one man perfects a scene
for a moment of abject glory.
I rake and rake, then wheelbarrow
the wrack to compost heaps
at the edge of the woods where
tonight a bear will tumble forth
with playful appetite raving.