Gardening with Lions
By Darryl Ratcliff• Ecclesiastes 9:4
When one’s hand becomes a shovel
thrust into black soil, seeping gravel
and grub worms between fingers
the dirt lining your nails like a black crescent,
a partial eclipse, as you replace what is dead
with what is living, laying down seeds
like wishes into the night earth
Poet Darryl Ratcliff wrestles with current injustices and dreams of a life-filled future in response to Ecclesiastes 9:4.
4 ¶ For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.
I was struck by the truth of the human condition contained in this passage – we are better humbled and living than proud and dead. I thought about how we often lionize the dead, particularly those who die suddenly or unexpectedly. Through the lens of Black Lives Matter, I was thinking about how we lionize the names of those who have died due to police violence. As much as we should and want to remember these people, we would much rather that we did not have to – that they were indeed still alive. So the metaphor of the garden, the transformation of the dead into fuel for new life and growth – is ultimately a hopeful one. It is an instance where one is joined with all the living. Yet, even as the gardener in the poem contemplates and interrogates whether good things can come from these untimely deaths – he finds himself hoping that he too doesn’t become another dead lion during an interaction with the police. So the title gardening with lions – is in a way to be in communion with the dead – while cultivating new possibilities in our current life.
Darryl Ratcliff is an artist and poet based in Dallas, TX and is the founder of the North Texas poetry label Pink Drum. As an artist his work focuses on the topic of cultural equity, and his projects include Ash Studios, Creating Our Future, and Michelada Think Tank. Ratcliff is a recent recipient of artist awards from the Dallas Museum of Art, Nasher Sculpture Center, and the Office of Cultural Affairs, City of Dallas. His project, Ash Studios, was awarded Best Gallery or Art Space by D Magazine in 2016.