This poem is spillover from the February 21, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from marina_bonomi, meeksp, and wyld_dandelyon. It was selected in an audience poll as a freebie, based on the fishbowl attracting two new prompters. Among the references I used for this poem were articles about cheetahs and Arthur Wellesley. You can find more poems in the Steamsmith series through the Serial Poetry page.
Raising a cheetah cub
turned out to take considerably more work
than an ordinary kitten or a puppy.
Farasat had the mind of a cat
but was already the size of a small dog
and would grow as tall as an Irish wolfhound.
He had come to Maryam with his own bed
and a typical cat box, but before long,
he outgrew both of those.
When he was not sleeping before the fire,
he found his way onto the couch
or into Maryam's bed,
and when he could not fit into the cat box
he piddled on the Persian rug
and pawed the tassels over the stain.
He had not come with a scratching post,
but he had most certainly come with claws,
which he sharpened upon the couch
and the posts of Maryam's bed
and the tall walnut newels of the staircase
until they all showed big splintery spots.
Maryam prevailed on her neighbor,
Graham Beech, a woodworker who made
fine furniture and fittings for manor houses.
He repaired what he could of the damaged goods,
and replaced some of the solid wood,
although a new couch would be needed.
Then he made a sandbox the size of a kitchen table,
tall enough to keep the sand properly inside.
He built a cat bed, round and high with a nice cushion,
suited to the size of an adult cheetah.
Then he made a scratching post from a whole small tree
wrapped entirely in twine that could be replaced at need.
By that point, Maryam had finished assembling
a tommy which she posted beside the sandbox
with a little bucket and shovel and rake.
"Now that's right clever, that is," said Mr. Beech.
"You ought to make up some more of those for sale."
"What, you mean no one else has?" asked Maryam.
"Not that I know of," he said, "though I'm no expert."
So Maryam jotted down the design for future reference.
Farasat was a handful, but for every hassle
there was another delight.
When Maryam came home, he chirped
to greet her, and jumped up
to put his big paws on her chest.
He chased butterflies in the garden,
and pounced on grasshoppers.
He purred when happy,
like a powerful motor perfectly in tune.
Maryam soon noticed, however,
that Farasat hated the cold.
On foggy or windy days
he balked at the door
or pressed himself against
Maryam's legs as they walked.
One afternoon found them huddled
in a park shelter with Mrs. Hunter,
staring out at a downpour.
"Look at the poor dear, he's shivering!"
Mrs. Hunter said with a nod at Farasat.
"I don't blame him," Maryam said,
hunching deeper into her greatcoat
and wishing that she had worn a jumper
underneath it instead of her usual suit.
She and her mother had always felt the cold more,
while her father would go about in shirtsleeves.
The next week, Mrs. Hunter
dropped by with a jumper for Farasat,
a handsome cableknit in deep green wool.
"I made it from the pattern for Merle," she said,
"so I had to guess at the size."
They laughed to see that the sleeves
hung over the paws of the half-grown cheetah.
Maryam just rolled them up and said,
"He'll grow into it."
The jumper did help, and of course
once the neighbor women saw it
they all wanted to make one,
so before long Farasat had a dozen of them
in different hues -- plus the one that
Mrs. Heath knitted from leftover yarn
in a riot of colors that clashed with his spots.
Alas, the jumpers did not dissuade Farasat
from finding things to play with,
and one day he got into Maryam's alchemical goods
and scattered them all over the floor.
Any other pet would probably have blown itself up
but at least a cheetah's sense of energy spared him that.
Maryam looked at the big kitten surrounded by
tiny precision parts (and the fragments of a former engine)
and wondered what in the world to do with him.
She had been in some difficult spots before,
but this was getting ridiculous.
Maryam wound up writing a letter
to her colleagues Aalim and Taysir,
asking about the care of cheetahs.
It was all very well, she thought,
to send one's friend a splendid gift
but one really ought to include
an instruction manual in cases like this.
Aalim sent a big book about cheetahs,
its gilt-edged pages bound in crimson leather,
full of fascinating facts and copperplate illustrations.
Taysir sent several useful bits of equipment
including an odd bronze ball that could be filled
with treats which would fall out, one at a time,
as Farasat chased it about.
The book emphasized the importance
of keeping cheetahs warm and dry.
Maryam peered out her window
at the soggy London sky and grumbled.
She was lucky to keep herself warm and dry
in this climate -- for all she loved London,
her body thought it belonged in Africa
just as much as Farasat himself.
The cheetah got wet once too often and
caught a chill, sneezing and coughing for days.
Maryam refused to leave him alone
and took him everywhere with her,
bundled under her greatcoat, even
into the lounge at the Steamsmith Guild.
Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington,
looked at the miserable cat and remarked,
"I say, what he needs is his own coat and boots."
Maryam gave a helpless shrug and said,
"I am a steamsmith, not a tailor or a cobbler.
His jumpers all come from the neighbor women."
The Duke rapped his walking stick
against his own dapper black boots and said,
"I shall try it myself, then. I relish a challenge."
After a few weeks -- and a few false starts --
Farasat had his very own set of wellingtons,
and a slicker with a lining of heavy wool felt,
and even a clever little hat with bills on the front and back
to keep the rain off his muzzle and off his neck.
It took an hour to dress him the first time,
because he hated wearing more than a harness,
but Farasat soon realized that this kept him warm and dry
so he ceased to resist the process.
Then of course the reporters saw them
trotting about London all dressed for the weather,
and the Times printed an article with a picture of them,
which someone sent along to Aalim and Taysir,
who wrote back wondering what was going on over there.
Maryam laughed and wrote out her plans
for the sandbox automaton, and then
wheedled a pattern for the rain gear out of the Iron Duke.
Aalim and Taysir would know how to reach whomever
made equipment for cheetahs, and if it sold well,
she could have Mr. Beech build a covered run for Farasat.