Bhallin’ with Books: Jake Skeets’ poetry

I began this week lost. I read the first few pages of multiple books, but nothing felt right. I wanted to read something else, something different. However, without knowing what, I got stuck not doing any reading at all.

​Luckily, I happen to follow a lot of bookstores on Instagram. They are constantly posting bookish news and interesting new releases. Because it is LGBTQ+ History Month, I thought it would be fitting to read a queer author. These accounts had plenty of suggestions. I decided on a collection of poems by Jake Skeets entitled Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers” (2019). Skeets is an emerging Diné queer poet from Vanderwagen, New Mexico. His collection is a winner of the 2018 National Poetry Series.

​“Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers” is a portrayal of his reality of Diné life in Vanderwagen, New Mexico that has its eyes wide open. It is provocative and gripping, heart-wrenching and blunt. Like looking into a raw and bleeding wound, you see the brutality and mess of life along with the fiery tenacity of all those around him.

Skeets reveals through his poetry the difficulty in navigating the dangers and complications of being Diné and gay. He is creating art out of cruelty while poetically exploring sexuality, the stages of it and how it manifests within his culture. Skeets declares that life is difficult enough already, with “tractor tire[s] backing over a man’s skull” (“Drunktown”). According to Skeets, the relationships between men are just as difficult, as “men around here only touch when they fuck in a backseat” (“Drunktown”).

​Yet he also is drinking in and illustrating out to his readers the strength and beauty. He is illustrating the paradoxes of love and death, of nature and desert, of cracked skulls and lips meeting. In his poem “Dear Brother,Skeets connects the violence of his town to the love he has for men saying, “You kissed a man the way I do / but with a handgun… I learned how to be a man by loving one” (Dear Brother). There is death, but there is hope and love as well.

Skeets lets his identity drive his poetry; it is wholeheartedly true to his experience as a Diné in Vanderwagen and a sexual being. He somehow encapsulates all of the complicated parts of his existence within his freeform and intricate poetry.

It is so important to make a continued effort to diversify the texts that are valued by society. This begins with seeking out, reading and supporting historically marginalized voices. Through reading voices like Skeets’, we are giving our time, energy and money to a voice that has continually been told to be quiet. Hear him speak; Skeets has created a powerful book of art that deserves your time and attention.


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