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.
Jake Skeets is Black Streak Wood, born for Water's Edge. He is Diné from Vanderwagen, New Mexico. He holds an MFA in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Skeets is a winner of the 2018 Discovery/ Boston Review Poetry Contest and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Skeets edits an online publication called Cloudthroat and organizes a poetry salon and reading series called Pollentongue, based in the Southwest. He is a member of Saad Bee Hózhǫ́ A Diné Writers' Collective and currently teaches at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona.
"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." --Tommy Orange
"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." --Rigoberto Gonzalez, Los Angeles Times
"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." --Sherwin Bitsui