A Revolt Against Everything Decent
You were fashion-model tall and conspicuously moneyed: your brimmed cloche, the velvet of melting chocolate; your skirt, sleek; stockings, artfully seamed. Far behind you on the museum’s sidewalk, I wanted to see the front of you, certain I’d encounter some inimitable beauty. You paused—posed—back foot weighted, front knee photogenically bent. Were you a pensive heiress visiting your Singer Sargent soul-cousin? A philanthropist on a post-brunch art gaze?
On the sun-warmed sidewalk, tourists spoke their native music, soft-swirlers strolled, and skateboarders twisted, airborne. Ticket-holders thronged the edificial glass doors. Amid this genial crowd, I started to heal from the headlines—school shootings and book burnings and librarians crowned with thorns.
I sped my step to catch up to you.
Inside the museum, on the wall behind clear glass and braided rope, sat Alice Neel, naked but for her eyeglasses and the blue aura of her self-portrait. Her doughy thighs had birthed, her saggy breasts had nursed, and her mouthlines were deep and deliberate. This was no robed Christ-like Dürer at twenty-eight or midlife Monet with brow and beret, but a social realist with a nervy gaze, white hair in a workaday upsweep, a fine brush in one hand, and a smudge wiper in the other, both painter and painted, age eighty.
You, however, were fabulously draped. And yet, your sidewalk pace was slow, the camera-necks and stroller-chauffeurs parting seas around you. Your evening lipstick was bold at high noon; your rose-gold curls, silken; conservations visible at six inches, but not six feet. Your pose had been regal, but your steps teetered. Had brunch featured a tequila-melon puree--or three? More likely, it was the four-inch heels; hazardous at forty as you seemed from a distance; treacherous at eighty, as I saw up close.
Only recently, my sparkling, sneaker-footed, octogenarian mom took a fall that brought her a cane. My walks-a-lot cousin in-law fell in Central Park and was hospitalized with hip and pelvis fractures. A family friend toppled from a curb one afternoon and into a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Surely, you, too, had such a roster.
How then could the joint-jamming clip-cloppers be worth the risk? Adept at dread, I’m ever surprised by its absence in others. Paused, your profile was as proud as a queen on a coin and I sensed that my offer of an arm would have offended. I wish only that I’d been able to revel in your refusal to dress your age, and simply allow your striking self-portrait, like the naked Alice, to startle and sate and render me fearless.
Lisa K. Buchanan
Writings by Lisa K. Buchanan have appeared in many journals, including CRAFT, Hippocampus, The Lascaux Review, and Sweet. She likes dancing the Charleston, slurping up black rice with butternut squash, writing letters to strangers, and breaking the Rule of Three. www.lisakbuchanan.com. The title of this piece is from a remark Alice Neel reportedly made about her self-portrait, “Frightful, isn't it? I love it. At least it shows a certain revolt against everything decent.” (Source: The Mirror and the Palette, Jennifer Higgie, Pegasus Books, 2022)
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