Down Wind, Down River

Down Wind, Down River

New and Selected Poems

William Witherup

This selection from six volumes of poetry and translation tells the story of a hard life of resistance to misfortune and commitment to social justice.  Witherup’s poems explore manual labor, nature and animals, love and the loss of love, and political realities and how they impact our lives. Several of the most moving poems relate to the death of his father, a long-time worker at Hanford nuclear facility in eastern Washington, from cancer. The book also includes translations from four significant and undervalued writers: Antonio Machado, Vicente Huidobro, Enrique Lihn, and Olzhas Suleimenov.  

“No poet writing today catches [so well] the complexity, the valence, the hysteria of being alone, of being up against it, of being driven by forces little understood; this feeling of isolation is Witherup Country, and that well may be the most significant emotion of these past decades.”—James B. Hall

“His strength is the impulse that moves his shyness to find its voice in understatement, the art that leaves implication suspended until its images explode in depth.”—William Everson 




Short for El Rito.  The town dog.
Ate handouts, everybody’s friend
until deliberately run over by drunk teenagers;
then became Jeannie’s, who picked him up,
large as he was, and took him home.

They broke his back, but not his spirit.

We brought him to my place,
hoping he would heal.
Each day he dragged himself down to the creek
two hundred yards from the cabin—
and I always had to fetch him and carry him
back up, muddy and stinking.

He wouldn’t be still; refused to be sick;
kept challenging dogs and horses.
The sores on his hind legs spread,
ate through hair and meat—
until they found bone.
Then we knew.

I dug him a shallow grave by the creek,
with bare hands and a stick,
so that I could get closer to his death
while Jeannie fed him
a last meal, mixed with sleeping pills.
Then I carried him down and laid him in.

Shot him between the eyes with a .22—
and as his head jerked forward on his paws,
his soul rushed past us
and it dropped me to my knees, my hat off,
and our tears were copious and hot

for Rito, the town dog—a free spirit!

6 x 9 inches • 175 pages • ISBN 0-931122-99-6 • $16.95