Iowa Writes

Jean Valjean

He sleeps. Although the fate was to him strange,
He lived. He died when he no longer had his angel;
The thing just happened by itself,
As the night is when the day is going.

I have watched a man like you before
run down the street,
believing he would have withstood a better chance
if he had taken the bread in broad daylight-
it would have not been soaked with rain, nor
would there have been the loud crack of the pane breaking, nor
the way the loaf's scent was leashed about in the rain.

(When I walk alone at night and smell the pot houses,
it takes forty minutes to cover two blocks)

His likeness was captured in a local poet I knew, those sideburns
eclipsing the undersides of what I remembered. When I
fell beneath you,
you would pull the curtain of lank hair back with your thumbs to
        reveal them.

(The light on my cheekbones, the size of two closed eyelids)

If he were to escape into the night, with him would be
his curled up poem about his mother: "Mulberries," of which
nearly every woman in the audience fed upon.

(Thrushes eating themselves hoarse on mulberries)

And yet, not one door would be opened later to him-
No matching candlestick, no bag of spoons.

Not one would be willing to buy back his soul- Not I
and that is where his poetry came from.

About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting


Betsy Blair lives in Oklahoma City where she works for the Metropolitan Library System and performs her poetry regularly at local venues.  Most recently her poems have been published in Blood and Thunder: Musings on the Art of Medicine, and in Ilya's Honey.  Her chapbook, "No Shortcuts," will be released by Village Books Press in early 2016.  She has found solace in the work of Iowa writers during times of loss and grief.

This page was first displayed
on August 19, 2016

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