by Tryphena Yeboah
Written as a part of our Tiny Review Series
A town split in two. Love and despair, and a striking depiction of loss. All throughout, a vulnerability of masculinity is woven between the lines, unveiled in the sexual awakening of the protagonist. In Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, Jake Skeets creates a work of resistance and accountability, a stamp of truth about lives of Native people being cut off, silenced, and wiped clean without a trace.
Skeets’ opening poem, ‘Drunktown,’ wastes no time in drawing the reader into the world of brutality that lives on pages where a tractor tire backs over a man’s skull. It is precisely this bold yet terrifying imagery that fascinates and grips the reader in a way that has us, albeit disturbed, leaning in with an urgency for what poetry of this kind promises—healing, beauty, a determined reclamation of one’s identity. And Skeets, with the keen eyes of an observer and a thrilling imagination, brilliantly delivers a compelling narrative.
The writer has referenced Luci Tapahonso’s words: “At its essence, poetry is storytelling.” In “Let There Be Coal,” a four-part poem, he hints at the closure of a coal-fired power plant in the Navajo Nation and the record of neglect of these utilities that continues to affect the lives of its people. The places mentioned in the piece are Window Rock, Arizona, the capital of Navajo Nation, and Gallup, New Mexico, a setting that runs through the collection. Skeets engages with nature by dwelling on the economic negotiation of resources like coal and expressing an intimate relationship to landscape.
A recurring style that emphasizes the writer’s connection to landscape is how structure almost places the reader in the physicality of the poems, including ‘Drift(er),’ ‘In the Fields,’ ‘Glory,’ and ‘The Indian Capital of the World.’
In ‘Glory,’ one is made to occupy fragments of police reports of Native Americans shot, raped, or rendered helpless by public intoxication, and accident victims spat out from the mouth of a 4x4: “The car is kissing the median like a wasp against a window./ Its wings torn to pieces.” And when a train, its sound likened to a river, hits a young boy on the Westside, the depiction of the scene and order of words evoke a sensation as chaotic as it would be in reality. Skeets achieves this effect by creating a balance with white space, enacting a shift between disconnectedness and the flow of language:
Like a river, a river goddamnit,
a river, a river,
The poem takes the continuous, flowing form of a river, as if manipulating the language to allow the reader walk through the experience or in this context, wade in the water.
With a complexity in language and form, and an emotional resonance that provokes an imagination of what could be, Skeet’s debut collection interrogates the injustices and violence in Gallup and beyond that, propels towards a vision of beauty, restoration, and light.
Tryphena Yeboah is a fellow in Creative Writing at Chapman University. She grew up in Ghana. Her fiction has appeared in Narrative Magazine, and her poetry chapbook was selected by Kwame Dawes for inclusion in the New-Generation African Poets series from Akashic Books.