From the Archive: “Portrait of My Body,” by Phillip Lopate

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“Portrait of My Body,” by Phillip Lopate, appeared in MQR’s Fall 1993 issue.

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I am a man who tilts. When sitting, my head slants to the right; when walking, the upper part of my body reaches forward to catch a sneak preview of the street. One way or another, I seem to be off-center — or “uncentered,” to use the jargon of holism. My lousy posture, a tendency to slump or put myself into lazy contorted misalignments, undoubtedly contributes to lower back pain. For awhile I correct my bad habits, do morning exercises, sit straight, breathe deeply, but always an inner demon that insists on approaching the world askew resists perpendicularity.

I think if I had broader shoulders I would be more squarely anchored. But my shoulders are narrow, barely wider than my hips. This has always made shopping for suits an embarrassing business. (Francoise Gilot’s Life with Picasso tells how Picasso was so touchy about his disproportionate body–in his case all shoulders, no legs–that he insisted the tailor fit him at home.) When I was growing up in Brooklyn, my hero was Sandy Koufax, the Dodger’s Jewish pitcher. In the doldrums of Hebrew choir practice at Feigenbaum’s Mansion & Catering Hall, I would fantasize striking out the side, even whiffing twenty-seven batters in a row. Lack of shoulder development put an end to this identification; I became a writer instead of a Koufax.

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Image: Kentridge, William. Untitled (“Man with Megaphone Cluster”). Etching, aquatint, drypoint, and engraving with roulette and crayon additions. 1998. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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