Poetry: Bugsy Siegel’s Flying Eye | clivejames.com
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Bugsy Siegel’s Flying Eye

In Havana, at the hotel Nacional,
Lucky Luciano, or so the story goes,
Persuaded a reluctant Meyer Lansky
That Bugsy Siegel, who had squandered the mob’s money
On taking years to finish the Flamingo
And might even have skimmed from the invested capital,
Would need to have his venture in Las Vegas
Brought to a sudden end.

But the execution happened in LA
With Bugsy unwisely sitting near a window.
The first bullet took out his right eye
And flung it far away across the carpet
Into the tiled dining area.
He should have known that something bad would happen
Because when he got home he had smelled flowers
And when there are no flowers in the house
But you still smell them, it means death.

After the window shattered, the smell of jasmine
Seeped through the house, but that was no premonition,
Because Bugsy was already dead.
Scholars still ask the question why
He never guessed that he would soon get hit,
Even after closing down his dream-land
For yet another re-design. He was
An artist among gangsters. The others weren’t.

When I got to Vegas, the original Flamingo
Had been torn down, with a garden on the site,
But in Havana, at the Nacional,
I met the waiter who had built a long career
Out of once having slept with Ava Gardner,
And I sat to drink mojitos where Meyer Lansky
And Lucky Luciano might once have done the same
While they pondered what to do about Bugsy.
Maybe they did. It was mob business
So nothing got written down. Nobody can be sure
Of anything except that flying eye.

Note (from Collected Poems)

The mention of Ava Gardner might seem gratuitous, but I should confess that when I was twelve years old her appearance in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman marked me for life, and that I was forever afterwards the Dutchman, played by James Mason as the commander of a ghost ship who was given to reciting quatrains from the Fitzgerald translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam while he sailed in perpetual search of the woman who would redeem him from his anguish. Later on, when I met my future wife, it turned out that she was in perpetual search of James Mason. My mother cherished the copy of the Fitzgerald Rubaiyat from which she and my father had once read aloud together. She would read it to me with what I can now recall as a naturally sensitive attention to the stanza form. In the key line ‘Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it’ she would give the word ‘tears’ precisely the light but slightly lingering emphasis that it required.