When December rolls around, my thoughts turn towards my brother. His death is an important story for my family. It’s a pivot point after which everything was different. I’ve been expanding upon the tale for years, but I avoided tackling a scene that happened the day after my brother’s death. It was a tender moment of time between my father and I and I feared I’d never do justice to our conflicting emotions and diagonal viewpoints.
I have to admit this story almost broke me. It’s intensely personal. I wrote and re-wrote it. I fussed over it. I was disappointed when it was declined by places I was certain would be a good fit. I tinkered with it some more, then sent it to a batch of new places. I almost walked away from writing. I ascribed super significance to finding the story a good home. I lived in limbo while I waited for this one story to land.
West Texas Literary Review published In the Bleak Mid-Winter on March 22, 2018. Between my joy and pride, I had a day’s worth of fresh tears shared with my siblings. The story was a teeny splash in the ocean of text published that day. The world quickly moved on.
I had originally titled the story Silent Night because of an image in my mind. I remember looking out a bedroom window at my brother’s grave in the small cemetery across the road from my parent’s home. The grave was covered by a dome made of dozens of donated flower arrangements. I was grateful for the snow-covered mound that covered the raw cutting of the earth. The unmarred snow, coupled with the peace of the purple-blue evening reminded me of my favorite Christmas carol, Silent Night. I hoped my parents would find some of the peace of Bethlehem as they looked at the cemetery in the coming days. I knew the saddest Christmas they would ever face loomed hours away.
My brother’s funeral was on Monday, December 23, 1985. The organs he donated were a Christmas gift to their recipients. I wanted to reference a carol, to reinforce the holiness of the gift. My dear friend T.L. Sherwood, urged me to reconsider the title so I began to research other carols. Once I found the lyrics to In the Bleak Mid-Winter, renaming the story made perfect sense. Here’s the first verse:
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
The carol is based on a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti originally published under the title “A Christmas Carol,” in the January 1872 issue of Scribner’s Monthly. The poem first appeared set to music in The English Hymnal in 1906 with a setting by Gustav Holst.
It’s a beautiful carol, though not particularly well known in the States. Take a couple minutes and listen. Link’s below.
In the Bleak Mid-Winter by Nina Fosati: http://www.westtexasreview.com/2018/5/bleak-mid-winter.php
West Texas Literary Review: http://www.westtexasreview.com/
St. John Cantius Choir of Saint Cecilia singing In the Bleak Midwinter