November 30, 2012 at 11:39 am EST | by Terri Schlichenmeyer
Poetic tribute to Shepard

‘October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard’
By Lesléa Newman
Candlewick Press
128 pages

October Mourning, books, gay news, Washington Blade

(Image courtesy Candlewick Press)

When you wake up in the morning, there are certain things you expect to be the same.

You’ll have a brand-new day, of course, but it’ll start where you ended last night. Your alarm will be the same, set at a time you probably know all too well. A surprise might await you at some point in each new day, but the familiar is your comfortable beginning.

And yet, while you slept, the world changed.

In the new book “October Mourning” by Lesléa Newman, you’ll see what happened on one frosty night, 14 years ago.

He was outnumbered.

It was two against one: two local boys, placed in a bar with a pitcher of beer. One petite Matthew Shepard, sitting at the same bar, alone.

The boys’ truck knew that the situation wouldn’t turn out well when the two locals lured Shepard into its cab with promises. The road on the way out to the Wyoming vastness thought it had seen everything but when it noticed Shepard trapped in the truck, it wanted to heave.

The clothesline that was used to tie Shepard felt tangled. The fence held him up all night, though he was “heavy as a broken heart.” The fence held on, through wind and prairie alone. It cradled him, as his mother would.

There are many things you can do in 18 hours.

You can cram for a test. You can drive cross-country, read a thick book, watch day turn into night and back again. Or you can wait to be discovered, tied to a fence, with wind and deer as companions.

After Shepard was found, the patrolman thought he’d been crying. The doctor cried when he saw what was left of the boy. The candle at Shepard’s vigil grieved and armbands stood as one. The fence that held him didn’t mind becoming a shrine.

In the days to follow, as news of Shepard’s death raced around the world, it changed some lives: a drag queen went further into the closet. A police commander removed gay slurs from his vocabulary. The bartender who served the local boys felt regrets. Countless students realized that Shepard’s story could have been their own.

Other drivers on the road must think I’m crazy.

There I was, cruising down the highway with tears coating my cheeks, my hand to my mouth. That doesn’t happen often; in fact, few audiobooks move me as much as did “October Mourning.”

Through a series of freestyle verses, author and poet Lesléa Newman imagines in this book the many points of view from people and objects that were witness to Matthew Shepard’s last moments. Newman’s sparse words, performed by several different actors in varied voices and timbres, bring incredible emotion to her scenarios, making this a book with beauty on one side, horror on the other.

Though grown-ups can certainly enjoy this audiobook, I think its best audience is young adults who are too young to remember that one night and its aftermath. For them, “October Mourning” may wake them up.

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