Jake Skeets is Black Streak Wood, born for Water’s Edge. He is Diné from Vanderwagen, New Mexico. He is the author of Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, a National Poetry Series-winning collection of poems. He holds an MFA in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Skeets is a winner of the 2018 Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Contest and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Skeets edits an online publication called Cloudthroat and organizes a poetry salon and reading series called Pollentongue, based in the Southwest. He is a member of Saad Bee Hózhǫ́: A Diné Writers’ Collective and currently teaches at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona.
Here, he talks about trying to fall in love with cooking, avoiding late night snacks, and a seriously deep love for ketchup.
On his all-time favorite meal:
My mother’s scrambled eggs, hash potatoes, and spam is my favorite thing in the world. Spam is such a stable food for most rez families here. I was probably eating eggs, potatoes, and spam since I could eat solid foods. My best memories from my childhood are waking up to our local Navajo radio stations like KGAK (All Navajo All the Time) or KTNN (The Voice of the Navajo Nation). My mother would be in the kitchen, still in her pajamas, stretching tortillas in her hand. I would help with buttering toast or setting the table. I make this myself today but it lacks something that my mom has with her cooking. I found that there are two ways to eat this meal. One way is to make a breakfast burrito. The other way is to tear pieces of the tortilla and use it scoop the potatoes or eggs.
Hamburgers are my second favorite thing in the world. When in doubt, I go for a burger and fries. I love all burgers, even school lunch burgers. Again, I can’t eat that all the time. So I am trying to fall in love with cooking now so that a variety of meals that include vegetables and less fried food can become my all-time favorite meals.
On what the light looks like during his favorite meal of the day:
It’s crystalline, coming in from all directions. I live in a mobile home on the rez, which is basically a rectangle. So I usually eat breakfast late or lunch in the middle of my living room/dining space/kitchen. I draw the curtains so the light comes in from multiple windows and bounces off the two large mirrors I have or light is scattered as it shines through the old Coca-Cola, wine or vodka bottles I use as center pieces. It’s the same for dinner, except its lamp light that is scattering because I have six lamps going at once when the sun sets.
On snacking while writing:
I don’t do much else while writing. I try to remember to drink water or stand for a few minutes. Once I find myself having finished a writing session, I will most likely be met with hunger. Its intensity will depend on the duration of my writing. But if I do snack, its popcorn, kettle corn, chocolate almonds, or Hot Cheetos.
On his go-to late-night snack:
I look for whatever I have in the house. We live so far from grocery stores. So most likely, we will have nothing in the house. So my partner and I will drive to the gas station near our house. They have a deli with fried foods. Pickles, nachos, and chips are normal late-night “snacks.” We have been trying to move away from the gas-station trips. Luckily, dinner is usually enough that I don’t have an urge to snack during the late night.
On his food quirks:
I (expletive) love ketchup. I cannot live without ketchup in my kitchen. I don’t, however, eat ketchup with everything, despite my partner’s insistence that I do. I eat ketchup with things that are appropriate like fries or hamburgers. I do eat eggs with ketchup, though. I also eat chicken tenders with ketchup. When I was a kid, I would eat pork chops with ketchup. Recently, I tried ketchup with macaroni and cheese. It was pretty delicious. So I think I maybe do eat it with a lot of things that many might consider bizarre. I don’t care, though. I love ketchup. My partner got me a Whataburger Fancy Ketchup blanket and it’s my favorite blanket.
On his final meal request:
I don’t really like to think about “last” things because it’s very taboo to think such things where I’m from. So I’ll say that if I somehow contracted a weird food allergy that meant I could have one last meal before switching to gluten-free, fat-free, sugar-free foods, it would be a meal with my family in Vanderwagen, NM. I would ask my mom and aunts to butcher a sheep. We would spend all morning preparing the meat. Then, in the afternoon, we would have mutton ribs and ach’ii (intestines wrapped in sheep fat) with tortillas. I would ask them to make some Navajo Tacos (or Indian Tacos, depending on where you are from) as well. We can end the day eating watermelon, outside, near our hogan, sitting in the shade, talking and laughing and telling stories as the sun goes down.