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  • Frances Klein

"The Problem of Describing the Caribbean" and "Open Air Jazz"

After Robert Hass.


"The Problem of Describing the Caribbean"

If I said stone set in silver

from a roadside stand in southern Utah,

black flecks scattered across its surface like lightning—

If I said robin’s egg rent on the patio

after the cat raids the nest—

If I said Indigo Bunting bird, its name a blue lie,

no relation to the Turquoise Honeycreeper—

If the lie carries on in Degas’ “Green Dancer,”

child-women draped in a turquoise deluge—

If I said snake, Blue Insularis, skin a thousand

thousand interlocking, undulating gems—

If I said his eyes, vibrant behind black-rimmed glasses,

barely visible when he plays the guitar like B.B.,

King of the Blues, stage lights on the lenses—

(how could you love a man

who keeps sapphires under glass?)

Blue, I said. Unbelievable, turquoise blue.


"Open Air Jazz"

The bear under my streetlight

is the reason every trash can

in this neighborhood

is strapped down with bungee-cords.

He snuffles down the dump hill

to paw at our attempts not to share something we’re done with,

which to the bear seems selfish.

Why can’t he have the egg shells,

shellfish, fish spines

we’re not eating anyways?

On his hindquarters in the halogen

puddle he settles his saxophone,

improvises a lament

for those among us who guard

our trash like treasure.

The click of claws on keys

lends percussion to the sunrise,

sunset notes of his minor key elegy.

Down south the crickets keep time,

but here the only punctuation

is the ‘yeah, brother’ call of a raven,

the finger-snap shush of the creek.

At some point the notes the bear is not playing

overwhelm those he is, and what passes

for silence falls back over the street

as the song of the salmon rotting

in E flat calls him out of the spotlight,

into the shadows below the bridge.


Frances Klein is a poet and teacher writing at the intersection of disability and gender. She was born and raised in Southeast Alaska, and taught in Bolivia and California before settling in Indianapolis with her husband and son. She has been published in So it Goes: The Literary Journal of the Vonnegut Memorial Library and Tupelo Press, among others. Klein currently serves as assistant editor of Southern Humanities Review. Readers can find more of her work at

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