Louise Glück

The Empty Glass

I asked for much; I received much. 
I asked for much; I received little, I received 
next to nothing. 

And between? A few umbrellas opened indoors. 
A pair of shoes by mistake on the kitchen table. 

O wrong, wrong—it was my nature. I was 
hard-hearted, remote. I was 
selfish, rigid to the point of tyranny. 

But I was always that person, even in early childhood. 
Small, dark-haired, dreaded by the other children. 
I never changed. Inside the glass, the abstract 
tide of fortune turned 
from high to low overnight. 

Was it the sea? Responding, maybe, 
to celestial force? To be safe, 
I prayed. I tried to be a better person. 
Soon it seemed to me that what began as terror 
and matured into moral narcissism 
might have become in fact 
actual human growth. Maybe 
this is what my friends meant, taking my hand, 
telling me they understood 
the abuse, the incredible shit I accepted, 
implying (so I once thought) I was a little sick 
to give so much for so little. 
Whereas they meant I was good (clasping my hand intensely)— 
a good friend and person, not a creature of pathos. 

I was not pathetic! I was writ large, 
like a queen or a saint. 

Well, it all makes for interesting conjecture. 
And it occurs to me that what is crucial is to believe 
in effort, to believe some good will come of simply trying, 
a good completely untainted by the corrupt initiating impulse 
to persuade or seduce— 

What are we without this? 
Whirling in the dark universe, 
alone, afraid, unable to influence fate— 

What do we have really? 
Sad tricks with ladders and shoes, 
tricks with salt, impurely motivated recurring 
attempts to build character. 
What do we have to appease the great forces? 

And I think in the end this was the question 
that destroyed Agamemnon, there on the beach, 
the Greek ships at the ready, the sea 
invisible beyond the serene harbor, the future 
lethal, unstable: he was a fool, thinking 
it could be controlled. He should have said 
I have nothing, I am at your mercy.