The Travel Diaries of Allen Ginsberg in South America
“I tapped my cane against the rails to find my way thru Death.”
April 28, 1960
Woke—on my lips, “the sweepings of the moon,” being ruins, lives & earth chips.
Slept in Guardian Julian Peredas hut—chili his. Hot coffee in morn with his sweet-bread-cake.
Last night watched sunset from Intiwatana stone—the dusk fell, darkness with 5 rays of light over the mountain Collpan from the hidden sun—started walking back down terraces to the hut—The city in early dusklight had been a green mossy grey stone, but now with obscurity, sudden darkness over the dead city, as if it were fading into darkness, a blink of the eye of history—The new pink & red hotel set up of transient boards & tin roofs of workers—“Darkness falls on the dead city—the last tourist bus drives down the mountain.” Saw all history vanishing in the general dusk.
Now on top of Huyna Picchu—looking down on the city, mid-afternoon—had set out in back hat & cashmere coat & dungarees & feet hurting in Bolivian workshoes—Inca cigarettes, yellow round bread & carrot in my pocket—and chose a stick to keep me company. So high up over the green plazas a man in white coat moves, a speck of white. Had prayed against rain. Divigated twice before settling on a stone on the peaktop. There’s the little white dog that barks too much, in the hectare the workmen are clearing under Picchu Chico.
Lay back on top rock and gazing at the sun took down my pants & looked at my naked belly and began handling my cock, till I came staring with half-closed lids over the smoky peaks and over the dark clouds to a strip of blue wherein the sun appeared with the same gold Heat and Name as the heat in my loins as I was to come—————————
Then descending, an area of terraces below a ruined empty gate, thru which I see the blue clouds—burst into a Millennium chant & song, Resurrection—seeing the colossal high terraces in total ruin, the colossal jungle overgrown, and cleaned away again to reveal the dirt striven rocks of the terrace walls, steep down in a crevice open on the top of the sky—Total ruin—Thought of what music I might hear in a dream seeing the ruins of New York after a millennium.
Descending, a small sunny rain starting, to wet my hat and feet again, but very light—Came to the saddle between Machu Picchu (Chico) and Huynu Picchu—a vast 180° rainbow from across the canyon and center of Pitumachi over the R.R. tracks—to the foot of the ancient village filling the valley—same as yesterday. Must have had always many rainbows when the city was new.
Intiwatana, crescent moon, city strictly in the clouds,—now alone at night—living in a hovel drinking cold coffee—the last priest.
Up there in the cave it’s very dark
The bodies are even gone from the tombs
More stones for the locusts, Pompeii, Rome, Herculaneum, Cuma, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Palenque, Machu Picchu—have lived in all these dead cities.
A rabbit and a lizard, and a white dog that barks too much and the southern cross.
Black centipedes over the stairways
The prow of the mountain like a ship in the night, this city.
Standing on platform looking into the obscure forum by the dim light of crescent, the house shapes and terraces half invisible—addressed to them—where are you now? What are you dreaming of—what war?
The half-mad scholar bending over his notebook in the darkness 2000 years hence—questioning the inhabitants—This I did with my beard, resting book on balcony and peering at it to write, then looking sideways scared into the fields below.
If I had summoned a ghost to talk to me, which I did not because of fear—in that vast obscurity—and
What language would we have spoken?
The ghostly solitude—I am the king of the dead, on their ancient throne—sitting 1000 years later lording over these ghosts, questioning in the later moonlight, from the height of the sacrificial stone.
And the stars over the dead city, so far away—suddenly in the presence of the Universe itself.
Tonite on the hard bed in the caretaker’s house, sleeping with 3 blankets, he gone to Cuzco to collect his 300 soles—12 dollars monthly wage. Tin roof, noise of hotel generator down the high road, my hat on a nail, newspapers on wall to hold out the draft thru cracks of wood whitewashed, ate 2 bananas, 1 egg & onion sandwich, one anchovy salad with cabbage, one anchovy sand., one cup of cold coffee, & pieces candy & water.
After a hearty breakfast I sallied forth in a cheerful mood to climb Machu Picchu proper—am toward the top of the first peak now, set against a rock wall cliff on a bench of rock to gaze down in the bright sunlight at the toy houses of the dead. With a strange orange and violet flower in my hat—colors which are at the opposite ends of the Arco Iris band—orange-green-violet.
Two huge, extra-turkey size brown condors at the point tip peak of Machu Picchu—one circling around sailing on the air currents as I mounted the stone steps toward the top—now as I came up to the last platform, saw this huge brown heavy bird—all brown, with very clean soft smooth feathers, nearly bald but furry & not ugly neck, & dark brown eyes & beak—cleaning its breast feathers with trembling birdlike delicacy, & plucking a crude red blossomflower weed out of rocky studden earth by its roots—eyed me, and did not move. I didn’t move—stood silent, protected by cane—and slowly began activity, turning round to look at view, down on Picchu city fanlike way down below, north, and the classical terraces on the peak of Hyuna—They are now standing 10 feet from me facing into the wind which ruffles their righthand wing-feathers.
Heads can turn 180 or 360 degrees & see all thru beady eyes, but I am sitting on a rock a few feet above them—they don’t move much (the second circled around the scene for a few minutes before joining us)—the air is clear, blue and hardly any haze—Looking at the birds I also with the same eyes look down now (I am seated on the crumbling highest wall) on the city under the shadows of a noon sun directly overhead in the blue space of heaven. A white flash that gives blinding weight to the eye when glanced upon, up in.
The city from this bright calm height hath its condors—miniature fanlike terraces & walls very proper & symmetric tho there are jagged lines, Capriccioso, the paths of the terraces changed, in origin or by time. It is settled far below, near the earth on a small height. I am perhaps twice or thrice as high as the city—perhaps twice as high as Pintumachi or Huyna Picchu.
“Are you guarding something? Eggs? Nothing to be afraid of—I’m only another butterfly—albeit I am the King of the Dead. I feed you,” and more conversation with the condors, who lead very philosophic, airy, panoramic lives.
“Is it on account of the flower in my hat you’re so still?”
The train whistle far below—and the trains no more than the long black centipedes—and just as slow.
“What shall we do with this city? What’s your opinion of the Dead?
“You eat the dead, I hear. How does it taste? Does it make you vomit? What thoughts when you pluck out the eyes? And when the train whistles what distances do you think? While you’re feasting? Don’t you ever lust after butterflies? How long have you lived near Machu Picchu? Ah the things that are here are before your time.
“Would you like some more bread?”—.
Suddenly with a great shocking fap of wings the first buzzard took off into the air, & circled for 10 minutes around the height of Machu Picchu, steadying its path thru the air currents with the movement of its tailfan. At times above me—so that I raised my stick in case of need defense—at times below, running huge distances till small toward the next mountain.
ILLUSTRATION OF CITY
Coming back down, slowly, sun setting behind first clouds—saw a Vibora in the woodsy part of the trail; and a walking stick insect; and hummingbirds that clicked & swooped like fish; and yesterday a rabbit in the prison area, & prehistoric little lizards on top of Huyna Picchu—as well as numerous centipedes—one which had its head cut off (which was gasped like a fish with horny mouth) whose body also wriggled feebly blind.
Dusk—from the terraces in back above—the mount takes on a brownish-greenish-mist with greywhite stone hue—dusk emerald for the laying field, oval in the center.
Coming back from the “Moon Temple” in the bosky glen path, sat down & drank beer—coke with the sad check-shirt chauffeur on his way down as I was returning. My feet hurt now an hour later, sitting on a nondescript Incan mountain-step—contemplating the little archetype ridge edged with steps, that joins Chico Picchu & Huyna Picchu, a little thin wall of rock joining the mountains, thru the curve of which I saw a rainbow 2 days ago and today for the last time look at Machu Picchu City ruins.
In the Center Field, in the grass—all around motionless masses of rock balanced as for centuries & a complete silence except for the high whistles of crickets, a feel not unlike the ball court at Chichen Itza. Have stripped the bark off my staff in the afternoon’s walk. 2 p.m. The craggy grey pinnacles—now a grey day—clouds hanging over the nearby peaks, my hat off, a sense of blank white space over me, slight wind. The grass here is vivid green, and a few red tall stalks of flower grow on the terraces.
What demons & what Neals have shouted & murdered on these terraces, what Bills sunk in reverie sniffing Huica, what Peters playing ball on the steps, what Allens hunched forward in the dusk musing past Incan housewives grounding maize, scheming how to get into the upper temple & work miracles, with new hip Inca career—despite the authorities that ordered the stones cut for Inner Authority Sanctions. The Sun emerging for an instant with a golden glow, and birds warble on the mount. And what Inca ladies shocked at my sex life—and what difference did it make, now that the City’s bare of men & little flies move around my hand.
Leaving having seen this wonder I dreamed of as a kid, I am dying also—one phantom seeing the trails and bones of an earlier phantom of earlier eternal days. Dusk.
Nightmarish walk down Machu Picchu to R.R. station at nightfall, with heavy clouds over the evening, twisted my knee, with bedclothes wrapped round my shoulders as I’ve seen Indians carrying their bundles, finally dark fell as I got halfway down & had to take the auto road roundabout way instead of human shortcut: a beast rustled in the grass & my toe burned in the dark. Many fireflies hundreds of feet up in the bush, and on the road, crawling express train light-bugs-worms, as if seen from airplane; finally made it down to the Uilcanota Bridge which rusted & leaned over the locomotive sound of the white flood below—And along the R.R track two kilometers to the station—last look back as I turned the curve, the hotel light & campemento corporation light burning way high up on the peak, in the dark mount, high as a Dantean peak in Inferno, a single star-like light revived the impression of utter high remoteness I first had seeing the Ruins from the trail on arriving—way up there in the sky, a city, dead, like an ancient idea of heaven.
Now back at Hotel after coffee, by the R.R. tracks, the mad dog still chained to the back porch with 3 feet of rusty iron, barking hysterically with rabid inhalation of growl everytime I stumble on the rocks of the front porch & step up the rickety wet stairway in the blackness—in the café downstairs they are all getting drunk for May day, poetic youths that make 40c a day working clearing the ruins or cleaning the R.R. track—all up the single street barefoot women following barefoot after the drunk men—and the radio blares from Puno, Mexican music too loud to stand, so that I have to shout to ask “How much?” for my coffee & Inca cigarettes. The drum throb below from the whorehouses—cantina next door, the dog still barking, and myself lain back in bed with two candles at my head burning like funeral tapers in this wooden room papered with last year’s newspapers filled with stories about the white smoke announcing a new Pope and the Einsteinean significance of the Flying Saucers with photos in Spanish.
In the Railroad tunnel darkness, with sack on back, I tapped my cane against the rails to find my way thru Death.
Excerpted from South American Journals: January-July 1960 by Allen Ginsberg; edited by Michael Schumacher. Copyright 2019 by Allen Ginsberg, LLC. Reprinted by permission of the University of Minnesota Press.