Standing in the Shadows

October Mourning

I remember the first few days after my then-five year-old broke his leg. I kept replaying that afternoon in my mind. If only I’d been skiing with him. If only he hadn’t taken that last bunny hill run. The final truth: he broke his leg; wishing couldn’t have unbroken his leg. And I wished. Eventually, though, that what if thing melted into a firm acceptance of what was and on we went, through a few weeks of hard experience we hadn’t solicited and then the cast came off and he walked again. Bones, in small children, when they break, become stronger at the site of repair.

As I read October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepherd, I remembered that wishful period and I thought about how for his parents, there wasn’t, wouldn’t be a moment to breathe that sigh of relief and move on, child having suffered some but standing on stronger bones. Where hatred was transformed into awareness, life changing awareness, that’s where the stronger bones are—and the tragedy of his death surely strengthened awareness. The cost, though, it cannot be justified.

And this is why the poems Lesléa Newman writes are so powerful. Not for a moment, although she creates a poetic yarn bomb on the fence where he suffered, does she attempt to justify the tragedy into something other, even as she articulates all the other that shrouds this memory for so many people. She wrote the novel through poems to encompass the many voices touched that night. She didn’t seek the story out, but because the beating occurred at the beginning of Gay Awareness Week at the University of Wyoming, where she’d been brought as keynote speaker to discuss her book Heather Has Two Mommies Newman stumbled closer than she might have—and was “haunted” by Shepherd’s death, along with so many others.

The Fence

(that night)

I held him all night long

He was heavy as a broken heart

Tears fell from his unblinking eyes

He was dead weight yet he kept breathing

He was heavy as a broken heart

His own heart wouldn't stop beating

He was dead weight yet he kept breathing

His face streaked with moonlight and blood

His own heart wouldn't stop beating

The cold wind wouldn't stop blowing

His face streaked with moonlight and blood

I tightened my grip and held on

The cold wind wouldn't stop blowing

We were out on the prairie alone

I tightened my grip and held on

I saw what was done to this child

We were out on the prairie alone

Their truck was the last thing he saw

I saw what was done to this child

I cradled him just like a mother

Their truck was the last thing he saw

Tears fell from his unblinking eyes

I cradled him just like a mother

I held him all night long

From October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. Copyright ©2012 by Lesléa Newman. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

When I told one of my teenagers about the book, he said, “Didn’t the Laramie Project already cover this?” This material needs to be covered more than once. It needs to be covered until no one suffers fences and no one suffers hate and no one loses a child because such intolerance is tolerated.

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Locals: you can hear Lesléa Newman read from October Mourning next week at the Forbes Library. Teachers—and parents—you can read more about how to use the book with students/your children on the author’s site. And, in my opinion, you should read the book—and then share it. I’ve already purchased and given a copy away.

© 2014 The Valley Advocate