Olive Hill

Poem by Sue Blaustein


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“As a magical doctrine, Buddhism promises to remove evils physically; as a spiritual doctrine it aims at purging the mind of a wrong attitude toward them. We have stated before that what is contradictory in thought may well co-exist in life.”
— From ‘Buddhism: Its Essence and Development’ by Edward Conze

The last bands and most listeners
had pulled out earlier, and the security guards
for the American Legion Bluegrass Festival
were off. They must’ve been drinking
because one puked by the sluggish creek,
then stumbled coming back through the foliage.
It wasn’t funny to him — he swore. I heard this
from my sleeping bag, by the zipper door of the tent.

Now I saw flashlights and heard voices.
One said loudly: We’re the bouncers, the other:
You girls aren’t asleep.
I stiffened. Were they talking to us,
and what for? Had they seen me in the clubhouse,
when I’d gone to brush my teeth? I’d edged past
their tapper to the bathroom. Before dark,
had they watched Joan enter the tent, to come out
later wearing a different shirt?
Then they said Come on.
We know you’re not asleep.

We know you’re not asleep …
Our chance was passing. The cooled
valley air was clammy and Joan was asleep.
Our car faced the creek — we’d ignored
Maurice’s rules. I felt like travelers in
Lotus Sutra tales — who woke to find
their innkeepers turned to demons.

There was no one to run to. Our bouncers
could be the police. I sat up straight, found my
glasses and keys, then paused. Oddly, silently
I called the Bodhisattva — Perceiver
of the Cries of the World.
In tales, Kuan Yin’s
vow — to save suffering beings — is invoked
by terrified people. They call out, and live
to see the morning, whole.

You girls …
I woke Joan and whispered: We have to go — 
get dressed. Don’t wait for them
to call us one more time.
I gripped the keys
so they couldn’t jangle. We bolted for the car.
Sweeping tapes from the seats, we jumped in
and locked the doors.

We breathed then. The taillights
of a pickup moved away. Joan looked around,
doubting me, and said: They left. But — like
assurances, night vapors can hide
anything. We parked near the exit, by an
army tank circled by petunias, cramped
in reclining seats till it was light.

I used baby wipes to clear the sweat. I
was wakeful and mad. Why couldn’t we
have spent the night in peace? I knew
Maurice’s answer: Even being white — 
why think you can travel safely unarmed?

Joan and I were unhurt in Olive Hill.
Had those men finally left, thinking the tent was
empty? In some tales, Kuan Yin
conceals the hunted. In others, she shatters enemies’
weapons or denatures their lust. She does, but
only for the ones who ask.

I’d always been taught and I’d learned
well, that rescue and ruin come from people,
never from gods. Why did I call Kuan Yin
as if I had faith? Maybe her names move me:
Regarder, Hearer, Perceiver.
I called because she must listen, listen hard — 
to the high lonesome sounds that come
from me and mine.


SUE BLAUSTEIN retired in 2016 after 25 years as a food safety inspector for the Milwaukee Health Department. She also served as a newsletter editor, officer, and volunteer organizer for her union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Her poetry has appeared in print in New Delta Review, Isotope, and Mud Season Review; and online in Kudzu Review, Stickman Review, Blue Fifth Review, and Full of Crow Poetry. She just published and released her book, In the Field: Autobiography of an Inspector, in January 2018. Olive Hill is included in this collection. You can learn more about her on her website at sueblaustein.com.