Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, by Jake Skeets. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2019.
This book encompasses multiple layers, like the geological strata it references. We could discuss it for days—on multiple levels. Instead, here I offer an appreciation, in hopes that you will take a closer look at this book.
Let’s start with negative capability, that ability to hold two conflicting thoughts or ideas—or images—in the mind. When reading Jake Skeets’s book Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, I was struck, over and over, by how the poems enacted that, embodying both devastating tragedy and a beauty that is rooted and transcendent.
I’m not going to be able to replicate the spacing onscreen in WordPress, so I’m including screenshots, with the poem’s words in alternative text.
(I love the line “The sky places an arm on the near hills.”)
Even beyond the images of teeth and skulls and wildflowers, or weeds, that haunt these poems, the music itself is haunting, staying in the mind and the ear. Consider this passage from “Maar”:
“Buffaloburr veins around siltstone
mounds on the monocline
flow rock smooths over into oar
cutleaf cornflower overgrown
pollen blown out
larkspur and beeplant on the meadow
grasp at the basement fault
taut atop diatreme”
A later line in the same poem says “laccolith ghost shadows over hungry dust,” and the word laccolith has lodged in my brain.
The collection includes several multiple-poem sequences, and in these sequences, Skeets allows each poem its own form, its own space on the page.
Skeets attends to space on the page masterfully. In “In the Fields,” a discussion of white space interacts with the white space around it.
The poem’s form and placement open up questions and implications of both “white” and “space.”
Skeets works across pages in these lines from the sequence “Drift(er).”
Then, in another poem called “In the Fields,” the words are blown up across the space of the page.
The lenses in these poems multiply perspectives, telling stories of love and elegy, and opening questions. Some are personal. Some are historical. All are important. Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers is on my must-read list.