To Compassion

(After the shootings at Virginia Tech)

This is for you, Avalokitesvara, you
who sit, one arm draped across a knee
one foot touching down onto
our human earth.
Listen: the mothers, the fathers are crying
and the crying goes on and it will not stop.
The father of the murdered girl who loved horses
and wanted to become a veterinarian,
the mother of the silent boy
who took up a gun to speak for his anguish–
she weeps for what he could not say.
I tell you their cries require answers
that have not yet come into being.

On the evening news
they’re showing a 20-year-old
soldier with brain damage trying to learn again
to pronounce the name of his wife
they are showing the latest images:
refugees in Darfur: the children’s legs
brittle and black as the stalks of burnt trees
old men hunkered like insects in the dust.
Then comes the weekly Honor Roll
the names, the ages–18, 22,19–
and the places they came from:
Valdosta, Chisum, Red Lodge, Slidell…

Compassion is called a trembling of the heart
in the face of suffering:
you are poised in a swirl of robes
your right hand reaching out always, your left foot stepping
down always into the mess of our existence:
Show us how to go on bearing this endless weeping
You have seen it all, tirelessly borne witness
to our confusion–our murderous urges–our griefs–
and witnessed too our wish to shut it all out.
Can’t I just go out to shop for a new toaster, 
browse in the bookstore? Can’t I just plant
more daylilies next to the fence
and write a check to Amnesty International ?

What I need to know is this: after I turn off the TV
where does that stream of images go?
Is the ether polluted with suffering the way
the atmosphere is filled with carbon dioxide?
And if so tell me how do you,
compassionate one that you are,
go on breathing..?

-Geraldine Zetzel