EYES BOTTLE DARK WITH A MOUTHFUL OF FLOWERS

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EYES BOTTLE DARK WITH A MOUTHFUL OF FLOWERS BY JAKE SKEETS

In his debut collection, Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, Diné poet Jake Skeets crafts an intimate portrait of his hometown of Gallup, New Mexico. Like fellow Diné poet Sherwin Bitsui, Skeets burrows and grounds the reader in image, sound, and movement: “Indian Eden. Open tooth. Bone Bruise. This town split in two.” Here, in “Drunktown,” a coal mine and a railroad splinter the community, where “gray highway veins narrow” and “sands glitter with broken bottles.” 

Skeets is unrelenting in his illustration of the relationship between the body and its environment: “broken / clouds sanded down / to metal teeth / carburetor muscle beneath combustion” and “each eye a coal pearl . . .” His queering and embodiment of landscape incites the reader to realize the shifting nature of the body: a body “undresses into nightjars” and becomes “a cloud flattened in my hand. // Your body coiled with mine. Air snakes / over ribcage, cracks into powder.” And, in the vein of the necropastoral, Skeets shines light on an environment saturated with trucks and gasoline, where “his mouth turned exhaust pipe / his veins burst oil” and “he swallows transmission and gasket / bonnet with full wings / torn from his burning back / an eye alters into alternator / the other a hub cap.” He contrasts the dark through his weaving of language into the natural world, writing: “an owl has a skeleton of three letters / o twists into l” and “the letter t vibrating in cottonwoods.” 

This collection’s sublime scenes reclaim visibility in varying degrees of blossom and ash; each poem swells with breath and exhaust. Skeets creates a sonic space of visceral images that smolder in the dark weight of toxic masculinity and the violence within his community. His intimate choreographies of the body, violence, and landscape strive to bridge coal and ash with glinting mirrors of compassion, masterfully traversing and affirming the chiaroscuro of community and self.

Milkweed Editions.

—Review by Samuel Binns