October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard

Lesléa Newman’s heartbreaking poems remember victim of intolerance

In the new book “October Mourning” by Lesléa Newman, you’ll see what happened on one frosty night, fourteen years ago. Through a series of freestyle verses, Newman imagines the many points of view of 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 on the audiobook version, bring incredible emotion to her scenarios, making this a book with beauty on one side, horror on the other.

Shepard’s tragedy was a worldwide wake-up call to anti-gay violence and intolerance. It was two against one: two local boys, placed in a bar with a pitcher of beer. Matthew Shepard, sitting in 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. It waited 18 hours for him 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 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.

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.” Though grown-ups can – and will – 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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