Saturday Poetry Pick: Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers

book cover

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.

The sky places an arm on the near hills. / On the shoulder, dark gray--almost blue--bleeds // into greens // blue-greens // turquoise into hazy blue // pure blue // no gray or gold // or oil black seeped through

(I love the line “The sky places an arm on the near hills.”)

intestines blown into dropseed / strewn buffalograss blood clots / eyes bottle dark / mouth stuffed with cholla flower / barberry / yellow plant / greasebush / bitterweed

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.

dogs / maul / remains / like white / space / does

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).”

a train (binding) passing through
I try to hug him (binding) through the spine

Then, in another poem called “In the Fields,” the words are blown up across the space of the page.

crows // scavenge / remains / like // letters // on white space

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.