Readings — From the April 2015 issue

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From a previously unpublished journal entry by Allen Ginsberg, dated February 18–19, 1965, and collected in The Essential Ginsberg, which will be published next month by Harper Perennial. In 1965, Ginsberg accepted an invitation from the Cuban government to participate in a literary conference in Havana. After discussing such subjects as freedom of speech, capital punishment, and homosexuality, Ginsberg drew government suspicion and was ultimately expelled from the country. The Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) is a Cuban organization founded to promote ties between Cuba and other nations. Vilma Espín (1930–2007), a Cuban politician, was married to Raúl Castro.

Woke with sudden knock on the door — “Who?” — I cried — “ICAP” — I got up and put on — “one minute” — Indian pajamas — Opened the door — the ICAP face familiar but not one of the boys assigned to me — with three soldiers in olive-green neat pressed uniforms beside him — “What’s up?” — they come in — “If you please get dressed and come with us” — “Where?” — “Please pack all your belongings also” — “But what’s happening?” — “We will accompany you to the Immigration Department this morning” — “What for?” — “The officer there wants to speak with you” — I realized the jig was up and got chill thru my back — adrenalin panic — more like a cold fear thrill — everything sharp and clear as in a dream but I was still too sleepy — “What time is it?” — “8:25” — “Dios, it’s too early for this, I went to bed at 5 in the morning” — “Please get your clothes on.” They were looking around the room. What did I have on me — the $10 for pot — that’s ok — I was moving around sort of blurrily looking for my underwear thinking — “My notebook! Libreta de Technicos black notebook on the bed table — yesterday’s description of love scene with M. — Thank God I used his initials — but there’s still enough in there for them to get me on something political or amoral? — Will they search? — Can they read my scribbled English?” — I dropped my pajamas and sat in chair putting on undershorts — kind of funny fearful modesty — still worried about the little black notebook — What were they going to do? — fear of jail, kidnapping — “Have you called the Casa de Las Américas?” — “No, it is not usual in this procedure” — “I think you should call Haydée Santamaria and the Casa and check out if this procedure is regular” — “This is the regular procedure” — “Who wants to see me?” — “Capt. Varona” — “Who is that?” — “Head of Immigration” — Well that sounded not bad, maybe technical, it’s not Lacra Social or Dept. of Interior or G-police. Still total uneasiness in my body, and worry about Manola and José — have they been picked up again? — find out later — I dressed, awkwardly, and went into bathroom, brushed teeth —

“Electric toothbrush?” one of the soldiers in green cap.

“Sí electricidad, muy utile & sano” — I said — by this time regain some composure tho still cold-thrilled. I should have known it was serious and not been so loose with my talk — last night the Espíns complained? Who finked? — But my notebook full of secrets and thrills!

I started emptying drawers wondering if I should protest — “I want to call the Casa” — “Not allowed to make calls” — So I sat knapsack on bed and put on pants and a few odd bed-table books and odd empty notebooks, picked up the black full sexy one and put it under jeans in bottom of sack.

Down elevator into the lobby — stept out and ah! Mr. Lundquist and his wife with eyeglasses — “Ah, Mr. Lundquist — Mira, yo voy —” I began in Spanish, confused — and continued in English. “I seem to be arrested —” “Ah” said he jovially, stupid almost — “That’s alright, same thing happened to the Danish journalist I told you about, they’ll hold you in jail till there’s a plane and send you out of Cuba” — I was still worried about my notebook on the bottom of my knapsack on the hand truck — oddly they stopped to let me converse — “Listen, tell Parra what happened” — “It will be all right, they’ll put you on a plane” — “I mean, call the Casa de Las Américas” — His wife interrupted more urgently — “Arthur, he’s saying you should call” — “Yes call the Casa and tell them what’s happening, fast” — He finally got the message and assured me he would, immediately.

I went out front, saluted the cab boys, blue uniformed doorkeepers — everybody staring but with old kindly Kafkian smiles — scared and sympathetic or just dumbed? — got in car with the three green attendants and waited — nothing yet. They put my bag in the truck. I saw Mario Gonzales coming up the walk to work — “Oh Mario?” — He leaned in surprised and tentative — “What’s happening?” — identifying himself as hotel ICAP chief — They explained — “Detenado por Immigración” —

He looked at me — “Did anything happen last nite?” — “No” I said, “everything as usual, no special scene — call the Casa — Call Haydée or Marcia or Maria Rosa” — “I’ll do that now” he said — keeping his diplomatic aplomb — tho surprised he accepted the scene without temper or question — “Adiós Mario” —

We rode off — along Malecón to old Havana sidestreet — white ancient edifice — Immigration Service — and they put me in huge hall-door, waiting. “The officer will come soon.” Then I picked out my finger cymbals and began chanting very slowly and low so as not to disturb much. After awhile they led me in to barred-window locker room on one side — offered me chair, bed, went to buy me cigarettes — came back with Hoy — I sit and sang a little and glared nervously thru paper — “1,332,056 children vaccinated as of yesterday” — “Cuban–Soviet Business 440 Million” — “U.S.S.R. Rockets with 100 Million Tons of TNT” — The world is a mountain of dogs. If they kick me out it’s an unthinkable scene. That rigidity both sides a vision of war. Caught between lines.

A huge window with high bars looking out on the small street — suddenly an anonymous other soldier appeared, sat on bed, and said “We’ve arranged your departure this morning at 10:30 — plane to Prague, London, and N.Y. — You have your passport?” — “No, they took it when I came in at the airport” — “Oh, ICAP has it, it’ll be waiting at airport. We’ll leave now.”

“Fine but if I may ask, what’s this all about, why, and have you not made a mistake? Have you consulted the Casa de Las Américas?”

“No, we will call them. I have an appointment with Haydée S. at noon.”

“And your name?”

“Carlos Varona.”

“Your position?”

“Chief of Immigration” — “For all Cuba” — “Yes.”

We got in car and went off along Malecón — passing the ships in harbor — I pulled out my cymbals and began singing very low. It cleaned my senses a bit, very useful and felt good steadying influence as we drove out thru city. Varona reached for the car radio so I put my cymbals away.

“But exactly, can you tell me what is the purpose or reason? & why so suddenly?”

“We called for you last night but you weren’t in.”

“I was in Espín’s house.” Hoping that would surprise him — He didn’t register.

“Well,” I continued, “what about Czech visa — I want to stop over there and have business — a book coming out — work with translator — have you arranged a visa?”

“You can do it easily in Prague.”

“Are you sure you’re not making a mistake acting so rapidly without consulting the Casa?”

“We know what we’re doing, as this is a Revolution we must do things quickly, we do lots of things rapidly.” He smiled.

“Yes but on what exact basis are you kicking me out — it’s an embarrassing situation for me and you — I admire your Revolution and have sympathy basically and so am embarrassed to be” — He leaned back — “What’s that?”

“I say I basically sympathize — basically — with your Revolution but a situation like this makes it difficult for both of us — In any case have you anything specific in my activities you are acting on, or what?”

“Respect for our laws, compliance with our laws.”

“But what laws?”

“Cuban Laws.”

“No I mean which specific laws?”

“Oh just basic immigration policy . . . also a question of your private life . . . your personal attitudes” —

“What private life? I haven’t had much of that since I’ve been here.” I laughed, so did he. “Too much public life.”

Arrived at airport, filed thru to a waiting room office on the side — several soldiers guarding, going in out office, I sat in chair and opened my knapsack to pick out Ferlinghetti letter with Czech addresses and my address book — hoping they wouldn’t get new ideas when I pulled thru papers and books. Passport arrived, a guard examined it and filled out a form —

Outside waiting to go toward huge silver jetplane with czechoslovakia painted along it like the backbone of a fish — great gang of Czech visitors being greeted farewell —

Changed that pot 10 pesos for $ at air bank — saw cute eyeglass lawyer ICAP fellow I’d given Whitman lecture to in Varadero — I waved goodbye — he was at entrance waiting for another delegation to arrive, the neurophysiologists? — “Coming next week?” — “Looks like I’m being expulsado” — “Oh?” he said — “Goodbye” — “Ho!” I said back —

The milicianos standing waiting — Shook hands with them goodbye — walked out, silent and lone to the crowd of Czechoslovakians and got on plane — before entering turned around and waved at the Cuban soldiers waiting across the airfield. They waved back.

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