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"On Midlife: A Self-Portrait" & "Neither Here" by Mary Dittrich Orth

On Midlife: A Self-Portrait

A new gulley, a deep, unbending arroyo runs alongside what has always been,

an expected line in an unmapped valley, hidden in the shadow of my cheek 

at odds with the other brushstrokes I have collected gazing into the sun,

fitting squarely on the oval of my face, as if sketched out with someone 

else’s pen, long before my lips would kiss the abrupt winter of dead 

flesh, long before my own throat would choke on the cinder block 

silence of two ripening babies, inside me, revolting against the 

harsh darkness of their mother’s body, long before I would 

agree to meet myself for coffee without lugging along his 

oppressive grip—indeed, a million midnight paces, bare

foot and creaky, chiseled themselves into this familial, 

female downstream gulf where dusty clumps of 

forgotten breath, wedged firmly in our jaws, 

undamned themselves, unloaded their 

weighty packs, dripping and pooling 

into a puddle of clear spring rain, 

free to envisage, to unveil

a freshly imagined


Neither Here 

I am that last watery half-breath before sinking 

into the sound, I am fogged-up mask 

and the jostle of salty black slaps to the mouth. 

I am the sputtering sting of neon, elbows 

chafed and pressed into peeling Formica, sticky 

with residue of late-night secrets, I am the burnt, 

unwanted bits of our shared fries, a hazy film 

of days-old grease clinging to your tongue. 

I am plowing through our dropped pin, ignoring 

shouts of bright cobalt from every angle—exit,

turn around, unlose myself. I am making Christmas 

lists in July. I am pressing all the buttons, hoping 

one will be the one that blocks the brutality of a bright 

side, rewinds the welt already pooling between my bones.

BIO: Mary Dittrich Orth is a Seattle-based writer currently working on an essay collection. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Halfway Down the Stairs and X-R-A-Y.  Originally from Alaska, Mary is the mother of identical twins and a pooch named Moose. She dreams about coffee before she even falls asleep and loves to explore new places and paths, preferably on a bike.


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