The beginning poem in Brandon Leake’s Unraveling, “Confusion”, is the paving stone on which the first footstep is placed towards liberation, self-reflection beside, along with its attendant costs of guilt, acknowledgement of fault and pain. It begins by engaging the mind with admittance of the flawed human condition using a model persona, “a man”, and his seemingly endless “inadequacies”. “Pride” is mentioned here as one of those flaws the poet calls “the root of this disease / That rots a man from the inside out”. The title of this poem derives its context from the last two lines, where he confesses mistaking God’s voice with his own desire.

“But God”, the poet cries, “is it wrong to want my flowers while I can still smell ’em” reveals the origin of his ambition from God as, “this…you’ve planted in my soul”. The “flowers” in this poem are figurative of accolades, awards, validation, and the intoxicating sense of self-worth that comes with accomplishment. “While we can still smell ’em” speaks of the inevitability of the end of life, and how living is worth it when rewards of seed-sowing are being present to actually reap them. 

The first poem is significant in the way it sets the tone for the others as if we are shown into a cluttered room, that is both the poet’s and ours. It is a text art from questions bordering on religious piety that portrays a zealous adherent awash in the revelatory light of self-examination, and contemplation of intent naturally prone to wandering off divine will. 

The following poem, “Sandcastles”, brings to mind the colourful imagery of a childhood hobby at a beach, but in this scene, we are scooped a deeper meaning in our icecream cones. The sandcastle before us suddenly morphs into “A living room full of loved ones / And a doormat that says, “Brandon, You Are Welcome Here”. Pixel by pixel, in this seapiece, we are displayed our very own need for community, and family, in which we find “acceptance, trust, care” and “honesty”. With an understanding of a house construction, the poet juxtaposes positive human qualities with building materials. Some of these he identified as, honesty, patience and transparency. Sadly, we are drifted back to the sandcastle we’ve bent out knees to adore, “claimed back”— but what outlives its foundation is the “love” for “building things”.

In the poem, “Heights”, the author introduces himself by his mental state when he says, “My name is Brandon Leake / I spend majority of my time tattooing words across my wounds”. He does this with a boldness and clarity of thought that adds a sense of urgency to the, often spurned, conversation on mental health and healing. Then, the poet segues smoothly into the challenging reality of being “Black in America”, later daring us to remember “imago Dei” and “how the only way All Lives Matter / Is if Black Lives Matter”. Here, we also see his undying devotion to God with whom his words are very confessional.

The poems in Brandon’s debut collection flows in a pattern that holds the mirror for who we are on the inside. It is a subtle cry for our hidden need for a change, doing this simply by highlighting the human condition, and goes further to tenderly working out solutions after the conclusion of each session with truth. 

Among the poems that stood out for me is “Splintered”(pg. 41), and this, for its deep resonance, drawing me back to ponder on the striking words: “I don’t enjoy fantasies anymore / you know how many times I’ve been told to reach for the stars/ To only wilt under the chill of their winter”. In this line is the sad reality of a dreamer seeing his pursuit through the lens of disillusionment.

On pg. 44 sits “Mutuality” as a striking note on racism. This poem is like an eyewitness’ reportage to God, who, although is attributed the divine quality of being all-seeing, does regard voice and the human side of the story. “I’m starting to understand / That you / God are not distant, not far, not aloof, / But you’re right by our side / Mourning too” safely disregards the thought of God as an “absentee landlord” who is not really active in the affairs of men. It simply does this by giving him the anthropomorphic attribute of empathy. 

Although self-affirmative in some parts of this book, the words are deeply rooted in the understanding of character flaws on the self, and a God who is perfect, and willing to perfect what willingly submits to his divine will. On this journey of deep reflection after a shower in confetti, the poet contemplates stardom, it’s possible transience and fulfillment, but with the golden words, “I will choose mountaintop joy / Even though I’m horrified of heights.”

This collection of poems is a mosaic of mirrors, reflecting the innerman with the wavelength of an x-ray. The lines in “Unraveling” stretches into a long trail of ash— the remains of things we are not, let go of. This book easily passes as a manual of becoming better. It is a careful guide of our hands from our wounds towards the balm inside it.

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