Dunlop, R. (April 2003). Copper Moon Educational Insights, 8(1). [Available:]


Copper Moon

Rishma Dunlop
York University

"Copper Moon" (detail) Suzanne Northcott


For Matthew Shepard (1976-1998)
and for his mother and father, Judy and Dennis Shepard

of our time, our times have robbed your cradle.
Sleep in a world your final sleep has woken.
Eavan Boland, “Child of Our Time”

In the wake of a thousand years,
your body a scarecrow
battered silhouette against the starlight
of a grave sky
death arrives in a pickup truck
steals your shoes and $20 for coke and cigarettes
wraps your wallet in a dirty diaper
in a garbage pail
for this and for love
you are lashed to your crucifix
your blood a bitter stain
on the place that cradled you

your face
a scarlet mask
but for the clean white tracks
of your tears

and the air around us is a knife
and the taste of death is like rust
in our mouths
and a hundred years closes
a savage end to your journey.

What hope for a new century
unless your brief shining will be
an ecclesiastes
unless in this broken place
some aurora of promise is born
unless your tears cleanse
the skin of the earth
unless our children,
born of this time and the next
learn from your severed wings
and fly
follow you out of this geography
this darkest heart.

I imagine you there
in the primal glow
of a copper moon
the earth curving its shadow
across the lunar surface.

There will be a season for you
when the trees and air and sky are singing
and light will begin in the roses opening,
in the apples falling from trees

and there will be a time for you
when the crows will disappear
mourning doves will vanish,
when faith will rise up
with the songbirds of dawn.

May your breath be resurrected
by the human cantos of mercy.
May you dance beyond these years,
your heart breaking loose
in cathedrals of winds.

May this new century
hold you,
tender as a fontanel.

"Copper Moon" (detail) Suzanne Northcott


You, Mr. McKinney, with your friend Mr. Henderson, killed my son….
You left him out there by himself, but he wasn’t alone… he had the beautiful night sky with the same stars and moon that we used to look at through a telescope. Then he had the daylight and the sun to shine on him one more time—one more cool, wonderful day in Wyoming. His last day in Wyoming. And through it all he was breathing in for the last time the smell of sagebrush and the scent of pine trees from the snowy range. He heard the wind—the ever-present Wyoming wind—for the last time.

Dennis Shepard’s statements to the court, November 4, 1999

In the wake of a thousand years
I drift back on the bent neck of time
to the infant clasp of my firstborn
nursing her on an autumn night
her eyes reflecting
the milky net of stars.

The earth curves its shadow
across the lunar surface
a copper moon glows over the foothills

and in this primal light
I give her to the tidal pulls of sleep and dreams,
my hand cupped beneath her heart.

I remember her flight
through my cave of bones
her life spreading open
the beginning of music and light
an aperture of hope

in the folds of clean white linen
my child so new
all around her lightens and rises
claims me
the distillation of her breath
a universe,
an infinite refrain that enters me.

"Copper Moon" (detail) Suzanne Northcott


Baby boy

If anything stood out, it was the fragileness of Shepard
Fireside Lounge employees cited by Prosecutor Cal Rerucha

Outside your funeral at the Redemption Chapel
Reverend Phelps marches
with his cronies from Kansas
their signs
God Hates Fags
a full-color image of you says
Matt in Hell

and it is a time to mourn
and a time to weep
a time to remember your father
teaching you songs of childhood
Frère Jacques,
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
how I wonder what you are
up above the world so high
like a diamond in the sky.

The hatemongers at the temple
are surrounded
a parade of people dressed as “Angels of Peace”
white angels for you
seven feet high with eight foot wingspans
and the crowd cheers them on.

I remember
that October night
at the Fireside Lounge,
how death courted you
beer bottle and pool cue in hand
discussing your politics
wrapping the syllables
of a serpent’s coil
around your open heart
your smile shining
like your patent leather shoes.

"Copper Moon" (detail) Suzanne Northcott


this was someone’s child
                        Melissa Ethridge, “Scarecrow”

and I remember
another mother’s voice
in a Laramie, Wyoming courtroom
claiming mercy for the murderers of her firstborn
Matthew stood for something
mercy for those who could not show mercy
and a father speaks to his son’s killers:
I give you life in the memory
of one who no longer lives.
May you have a long life,
and may you thank Matthew
every day for it.
and I want the sanctity of scriptures
to conjure spells upon my tongue
to pray that this season too shall pass
as if the words might chant
a new scene into being

perhaps those farm fields
filled with wildflowers
the choirs of weeping
hushed in the opiate of poppies

but I see your pistol-whipped body
blood seeping into a nation
I remember the officer who cut you free
speaking of the braces on your teeth,
your school ID in the dust
she whispers to you in the ambulance
words of comfort,
Baby boy
and the sound of mothers and fathers
through endless years
is a wailing of sirens in my ear

and I wonder, as I touch
the memory of my sleeping child
her tender fontanel,
as I watch her now
running fleet-footed
through corridors of time,
my anthem, my bloodline calling,
I wonder, if I could cast away stones,
if I could be so merciful
to those who would crush her.

I wonder, if this new century
will hold her,
will her mother’s faith in
memory’s insistence,
be enough
for a millennium of mercy.


"Copper Moon" by Suzanne Northcott, acrylic and phototransfer on wood, 12" x 48"


About “Copper Moon”

The poem “Copper Moon” by Rishma Dunlop was written in response to the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998. The poem is informed by media readings of the event, excerpts from testimonies at the trial of his murderers, as well as personal and public response to the crime. Suzanne Northcott’s painting “Copper Moon” is a response to and artistic dialogue with Dunlop’s poem of the same title. The painting was exhibited as part of The Body of My Garden, a collaborative exhibition and poetry reading with Rishma Dunlop that opened at the Linda Lando Fine Art Gallery, Vancouver, Oct. 24-Nov.2, 2002. Additional paintings from the exhibition responded to Dunlop’s collection of poems The Body of My Garden, Mansfield Press, Toronto, 2002, Northcott and Dunlop continue to work across the genres of literary text and visual art in aesthetic inquiry and collaborative artistic production. The art from The Body of My Garden exhibition can be viewed at and

“Copper Moon” by Rishma Dunlop reprinted from The Body of My Garden, Toronto: Mansfield Press, with permission of the author © 2002 Rishma Dunlop and Mansfield Press

About the Author

Rishma Dunlop is a professor of Literary Studies in the Faculty of Education at York University, Toronto. She is the founder of a research collective of women artists/researchers called The Red Shoes Collective. Current research projects include work on Testimony, History and Memory an exploration of the engagement with literature and the arts for social justice education. Her ongoing collaborations with visual artists include exhibitions of literary texts and art, collaborative publications and performances. Rishma Dunlop is a poet and fiction writer whose work has won awards and has appeared in numerous books and journals. She is the author of two volumes of poetry, Boundary Bay, (1999, Staccato/Turnstone Press) and The Body of My Garden (2002, Mansfield Press). She has recently completed a new manuscript titled The Jeweled and Fevered Heart.


About the Artist

Suzanne Northcott lives in the historic village of Fort Langley, B.C.  Mainly self-taught, her work ranges from contemporary figurative to abstraction. 

Her work revolves around an exploration of the nature of boundaries and what lies between:  between self and other, the material and the subconcious world, or the space between disparate places.  She works mainly in acrylic on wood or canvas, sometimes in combination with drawing media and phototransfer.

A senior member of the Federation of Canadian Artists, Northcott is in demand around British Columbia and across Canada, teaching creative process and life drawing.  She has guest lectured at Capilano College, University College of the Fraser Valley and York University.  Her work is widely collected and her awards include the prestigious Aim for Arts International Show and this year's Spillsbury bronze medal.  Her collaboration with Dunlop is a continuation of her fascination with words and image and follows an earlier project "The Sex Lives of Vegetables," with poet Lorna Crozier.


Printer Version.  
Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader    
Get Acrobat Reader


    Current Issue | Poet's Corner | Call for Papers | About Us
Table of Content | Archives | Diary | Exhibits | Website
    ISSN 1488-3333
  © Educational Insights
  Centre for the Study of Curriculum and Instruction
  Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia
  Vancouver, B.C., CANADA V6T 1Z4