Iowa Writes

from The Palace Thief

It is critical for any man of import to understand his own insignificance before the sands of time, and this is what my classroom always showed my boys.

As young Sedgewick Bell stood in the doorway of that classroom his first day at St. Benedict’s, however, it was apparent that such efforts would be lost on him. I could see that he was not only a dullard but a roustabout. The boys happened to be wearing the togas they had made from sheets and safety pins the day before, spreading their knees like magistrates in the wooden desk chairs, and I was taking them through the recitation of the emperors, when Mr. Woodbridge entered alongside the stout, red-faced Sedgewick, and introduced him to the class.

I had taught for several years already, as I have said, and I knew the look of frightened, desperate bravura on a new boy’s face. Sedgewick Bell did not wear this look. Rather, he wore one of disdain. The boys, fifteen in all, were instantly intimidated into sensing the foolishness of their improvised cloaks, and one of them, Fred Masoudi, the leader of the dullards—though far from a dullard himself—said, to mild laughter, “Where’s your toga, kid?”

Sedgewick Bell answered, “Your mother must be wearing your pants today.”

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


Ethan Canin teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He is the author of five books of fiction, among them Carry Me Across the Water and Emperor of the Air. The Palace Thief was selected by Linn County libraries to be the focus of Linn Area Reads for 2007. It is available from Prairie Lights bookstore.

Prairie Lights Bookstore

This page was first displayed
on February 17, 2007

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