it can fool me but once

My mother, Janice Hilton Abbott, died on December 3, just four weeks before her 91st birthday.


I’ve been looking at photos, reading things she wrote, remembering.

Sunday morning, just four days ago, I sat next to the bed where she lay dying and wrote in my little notebook:

Mom sleeping. The sun slanting in through the blinds of the south window gives color to her forehead, cheeks, and hand. Mouth open, snoring just a bit. Just she and I and the slanting December sun. An hour of grace.

I had Alex Caldiero’s book Not Dreaming / Not Dreamed with me, a 1989/1990 work written while his mother was dying. I read it aloud to the woman who taught me to love works of literature because they teach us and deepen us as they surprise us. Thank you Alex. Love you Mom.


it can fool me but once

my grandmother used to say

death can fool me only once

then it’ll be my turn to laugh


The Rising of the Dead

When the body will be taken away,

then she will be missed.

The house will miss her first,

room by room.

Then the cat will begin

to look for her.

Then the mirror will

sense her absence.

Then the plants will

thirst the way children thirst for milk.

And they will wait —

They will all wait —


I was never so awake

as when I saw

my mother go

into her deepest sleep.



regular thru the

night   By late morning


Close to noon

a faint gurgling    She

lifted herself

opened eyes wide

then closed them

tight,    & with a

quick grimace

let go

last breath




I opened the window


No one


was any the wiser




A part of us is

forever    the friend

we each are

to no other


Yes, Mom, a part of us is forever the friend we each are to no other.


About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at
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10 Responses to it can fool me but once

  1. Melissa Beck says:

    I’m sorry for your loss. What a lovely tribute to her!


  2. Linda Jones Gibbs says:

    So deeply sorry for your loss, Scott. Losing a mother is a profound experience like no other. I love the insightful ruminations of the art critic Leo Steinberg upon losing his mother:
    “Many decades ago, as I was leaving the hospital where my mother had died half an hour before, everything I could see seemed suddenly altered. As if the streets, the people in them, the buildings, were no longer quite what they had been. The sensation of sudden change, of the world shifted into another key . . . it occurred to me that I must be reverting to the infant’s perception of mothering, its certainty that there existed a person who loved you more than herself.”


  3. Jim Harris says:

    Thanks, Scott, for sharing your thoughts and emotions at a tough, bittersweet time. I expect to be facing the same experience in the not too distant future; my mother too is 90 and beginning to fade, so your beautiful words (and Alex’s) have hit me close to home. My best wishes to you and your family.


  4. Mark Bailey says:

    I am sorry for your loss, Scott. Beautiful tribute.


  5. Jennifer Klaumünzner says:

    My sincere condolences Scott. She was a beautiful woman.


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