J. B. Stone

Review of Skyler Jaye Rutkowski’s A Mountain of Past Lives & Things I’ve Learned from BlazeVOX [books]


Skyler’s master collection, A Mountain of Past Lives & Things I’ve Learned, was just released this past winter, yet it feels like this work was a lifetime in the making. A composition of different experiences formed to make one solid collection. The chapbook not only reads as one of poetry, but as one of personal memoir. Reflecting on the heroes and villains that shape one’s self. 

There are many pieces that help cultivate this rocky terrain. The mountain speaks of love, such as the imagery conveyed in “LGBARTWORK,” a poem I first heard Skyler perform a couple of years ago via the viral web poetry series Write About Now:

Did it confuse you when I said
the indigo taste of a man’s tongue
rested just as easily on my lips?
Or how a person with two colors
instead of one check marked box of a 
birth certificate
fit into my palms like artwork?
I’m not a man, but when I see my best friend
look into the eyes of his sapphire lover
I could sing a melody for boys to learn

Skyler paints the reader a canvas built on the foundation of all colors, and shapes, and sizes, and the deep-seeded message within such a portrait: love and acceptance. 

The mountain also speaks to pieces of existentialism as well. In the poem “Borrowed God,” Skyler confesses her disbelief in the god she was taught to believe. She writes:

I’ve learned that you can turn water into wine,
that you can see and hear all that your creations do.
That you are present in all lives but
Have you saved anyone, lately?
I heard that you reward good deeds,
That Satan is the punisher of bad ones,
does that put you two on the same level?
You ignore the damaged of your created,
The ones who breathe sin because
that’s all they know,
The ones who didn’t believe in you
You’re someone else’s God, and 
I’m writing because I was told to,
This wasn’t the best choice.

Skyler illustrates a valid argument for faith itself, by confronting biblical phantoms of the past, and the hypocrisy that continues to this day.

 Although the title is A Mountain of Past Lives & Things I’ve Learned, this mountain is really a valley, filled with different mountains, different peaks, different summits. All composed of mementos; albeit some of despair, some of joy, but always of truth. Skyler breaks down the walls that one often puts up, and tears them down and opens a quarry curtain to unveil personal journeys to the reader.

J.B. Stone is a neurodivergent performance poet, writer from Brooklyn, now residing in Buffalo. He is the author of two chapbooks, A Place Between Expired Dreams And Renewed Nightmares (Ghost City Press 2018) and forthcoming, Fireflies & Hand Grenades (Stasia Press 2020). His poetry, reviews, and prose have appeared in Five : 2 : One Magazine, Crack the SpineYES PoetryMaudlin House, Peach MagGlassEmpty Mirror and elsewhere. He is the Reviews Editor at Coffin Bell Journal. the newest contributor for Step Out Buffalo and a street team member for Just Buffalo Writing Center (JWBC). You can always check out more of his work at jaredbenjaminstone.comand he tweets at @JB_StoneTruth.