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
“Jake Skeets writes with such sparse yet full beauty, you sometimes don't know where the source of the power of these poems comes from. It is in the power of his language, in the craft, of course. It is in how the brutal experience of pain and loss can become a thing of beauty, which is where grace lives, which is where the best art comes from. There is so much bottle-dark beauty here. Skeets is a new, essential voice in poetry, in literature.”
“One of my favorite new poetry books is Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers by Jake Skeets. . . . His poems bring us an intimate portrait of Diné masculinity.”
“In Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, Ná'nízhoozhí, also known as Gallup, Drunktown, and Indian Eden, staggers through memory and violent desire with ‘pipelines entrench[ed] behind [its] teeth.’ Jake Skeets sings this reservation bordertown into being, where the ‘Navajo word for eye hardens . . . into war.’ This collection is inevitable and unrelenting, its tongue ‘coils on the trigger.’ The future of Navajo poetry reveals itself in these pages.”
“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.”
"Jake Skeets's metamorphic debut, Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, replete with poems of depth, musicality, clarity, and associative throughlines, brings its reader towards real and credible meaning. These poems insist upon harbor, limbus, nettle: as in 'American Bar,' when we are reminded that it is 'such a terrible beauty to find outselves beneath things.' As in 'Drunktown,' when we are given the rupture into experience: 'In between letters are boots crushing tumbleweeds, / a tractor tire backing over a man's skull.' As in 'Let There Be Coal,' when we begin to perceive that 'no light comes, just dust cloud, / glitterblack.' Skeets's poems deserve every celebration and rumination; this, as is his work, is irrefutable."
“An amazing debut collection from Diné poet Jake Skeets that explores his experience and that of Native peoples with the American Southwest. Skeets’s ability to use form and innovate with structure amplify his innate talent for constructing language that is simultaneously lush and razor sharp. Grappling with alcoholism, queer sexuality, and toxic masculinity, his poems confront and challenge; but through its swirl of violence and beauty, Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers is always vividly gorgeous.”