The Paris Review

Perfection

SARAH MANGUSO

I.

For years I could barely write a page. I thought I was becoming a virtuoso of smallness while the grief, which is wordless, occupied an ever-greater volume.

My friend lived in the estates on the bad side of town. Let’s go to the forest, she said when I went over to play. There were three trees in the yard, but if you know where to stand, you can get lost in a forest of three trees. She could do it. She had to. Her mother died when we were nine.

When I was an “emerging” artist I wanted only to finish emerging. But not knowing what I would become, not knowing the circumference of my life—I never expected to solve those mysteries, and once they were solved, I missed them. I didn’t know I’d miss them.

At the twenty-fifth reunion, a presentiment of the grave, now that all the girls from your high school class have borne the last of their children.

My freshly spayed cat’s fetal kittens were incinerated along with her organs, but she doesn’t know it. Her mammary glands have swollen with milk. She licks her red nipples, getting ready to nurse.

True happiness is relinquishing one’s sense of entitlement to it.

Pigeons roost in the cathedral and shit down onto the cortege, and so the burial begins.

II.

On an autumn afternoon we sat in the back seat of a small car. There were too many people in the back seat. Our legs touched. he said. My left side burned. I can feel the pressure of his body, all our clothes between us. I’ve been trying to write about this for thirty years.

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