Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers
Selected by Kathy Fagan as a winner of the 2018 National Poetry Series, Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers is a debut collection of poems by a dazzling geologist of queer eros.
Drunktown, New Mexico, is a place where men “only touch when they fuck in a backseat.” Its landscape is scarred by violence: done to it, done on it, done for it. Under the cover of deepest night, sleeping men are run over by trucks. Navajo bodies are deserted in fields. Resources are extracted. Lines are crossed. Men communicate through beatings, and football, and sex. In this place, “the closest men become is when they are covered in blood / or nothing at all.”
But if Jake Skeets’s collection is an unflinching portrait of the actual west, it is also a fierce reclamation of a living place—full of beauty as well as brutality, whose shadows are equally capable of protecting encounters between boys learning to become, and to love, men. Its landscapes are ravaged, but they are also startlingly lush with cacti, yarrow, larkspur, sagebrush. And even their scars are made newly tender when mapped onto the lover’s body: A spine becomes a railroad. “Veins burst oil, elk black.” And “becoming a man / means knowing how to become charcoal.” Rooted in Navajo history and thought, these poems show what has been brewing in an often forgotten part of the American literary landscape, an important language, beautiful and bone dense.
Sculptural, ambitious, and defiantly vulnerable, the poems of Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers are coal that remains coal, despite the forces that conspire for diamond, for electricity.
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Praise and Prizes
“On its surface, Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers is an examination of toxic masculinity through the lens of a queer, indigenous Southwesterner, a book in which alcoholism, violence, and sex under cover of night are both ruefully and sensually described. But experiencing Jake Skeets’s collection is more akin to listening to a musical score to, or watching the choreography of, one Diné man’s vivid boyhood, the family and community of that boyhood, and the landscape holding them all. Indeed, like a lover, the land of these poems enters and ornaments Skeets’s men, old and young, dead and alive. His images haunt, and his use of repetition, field, and fragment provide the book’s structural genius. His is a major debut that feels to me timely and timeless—‘boys only hold boys / like bottles’—and is my singular joy to introduce.”
“Jake Skeets takes us to ‘The Indian Capital of the World,’ a landscape of erosion and erasure, where ‘boys only hold boys / like bottles’ and eros is a dangerous thing. In the brush and horseweed, ghosts and trains and abandoned trailers, a young Diné attempts to answer all the question marks of adolescence and early adulthood, desire and death commingling around him. These are poems born of unspokenness, testing the limits of language, love, and silence.”