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. Jake Skeets’s collection is 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. 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.
...[a] revelatory debut ... Throughout this book, Skeets challenges toxic masculinity with a queer coming-of-age narrative that’s knowingly reminiscent of D. A. Powell’s 'Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys' — but distinctly oriented within Navajo culture and the landscape of Gallup, N.M ... Masculinity leads to premature death, from violence or alcoholism ... The book’s triangulation between violence, self-destruction and desire leads Skeets to declare that 'the closest men become is when they are covered in blood / or nothing at all.' By turns elegiac and erotic, the collection is also lush with language whose music evokes the landscape. This is one of the most accomplished and emotionally engaging debuts I have read, one that shows a man 'unlearns how to hold a fist' by holding another man’s hand.
In Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, Skeets’s illuminating and hauntingly incisive debut poetry collection, Gallup is a place of wonder and discovery, challenging settler ideas of it. It is also a place of reckoning, as the book explores and prods Western norms—such as the gender binary or the commodification of nature—that have so often run up against the cultures of Indigenous people ... The experiences and resulting feelings Skeets shares about his time in Gallup can feel disarmingly universal ... For all its beguiling lyricism, this is a work determined to point out the contrast-filled moments that define Skeets’s life experience, many of them brought on by a colonizing force that sits on the outskirts of the work, lurking always but never explicitly present in body ... The shadowy brand of violence evoked in Eyes Bottle Dark is at once mundane and shocking ... The New Native Renaissance, as Julian Brave Noisecat called it in The Paris Review, does not exist because the publishing industry magically decided overnight that Native authors ought to be read; it emerged because the quality of these writers’ work demanded nothing short of a nationwide audience ... To read Skeets as a part of this movement is not entirely wrong: The work that appears in Eyes Bottle Dark deserves in some sense to be viewed as the newest addition to a movement to lift up Native voices. But it also deserves to be seen as the debut of a brilliant and transcendent poet, whose work conveys a gorgeous sense of self and of storytelling ability—qualities of the best literature in any tradition.
...Beautiful, daring ...ranges the fields, train tracks, backseats, coal yards, and watering holes of liminal border towns attuned to the particular roil of the Native American boys and young men who wander in and through them. He attends with exquisite, lyric eroticism to the ways in which their world is shaped by landscape, violence, danger, prejudice, intoxication, Diné language and culture, sexual tension, and the hauntings of a host of familial and tribal ghosts. Soma, word, and world turn into one another everywhere ... Skeets not so much populates each page with words but rather calls forth or invokes out of the field of each page what might not otherwise be seen or noticed ... A poem for a cousin, 'My Brother' ... shows this rich panoply of pantheistic forces by which manhood, personhood, can be shaped or shut down ... In yet another poem, “Naked,” Skeets writes, 'the closest men become [to being naked] is when they are covered in blood / or nothing at all.' And it is perhaps this wish to be naked, transparent, known, shown, revealed as true that is the simmering, about-to-blow combustion engine of these poems of becoming. Joining the most powerful male poets of Eros of our moment — Carl Phillips, Cyrus Cassells, Forrest Gander, Michael McGriff, Brian Teare — Skeets brings his considerable gifts not only to the particular terrible beauty of his native Navaho turf, but to a world in which we must all 'unlearn how to hold a fist.'