This poem came from the October 2-3, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by marina_bonomi and thoughts on the Seven Deadly Sins. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It has been checked for British spelling, but if you spot any errors, please mention them. This poem belongs to the series The Steamsmith, which you can explore further via the Serial Poetry page.
The balance of humours is a delicate thing,
affecting an alchemist in mind, body, and spirit.
There are always things waiting to disturb it,
like a plague of demons sent to bedevil an unwary soul.
Every alchemist memorises the list and learns
to recognise the Seven Fatal Malfunctions,
so Maryam makes note of them.
1. Luxuria (Lust)
Lust seeks physical gratification without emotional connexion,
drives the body's wants beyond all reach of real need.
It belittles the beauty that lies at the heart of true desire.
When it runs high, engines can overheat and lanterns burst.
Maryam dresses with due respect to her person and she looks
but does not touch the beautiful women and the handsome men.
A fire built to last takes time and care to lay upon the hearth.
2. Gula (Gluttony)
Gluttony consumes food and drink without appreciation,
or with too much attachment to the pleasure of the moment.
It cheats the body's need for mindful nourishment, not rubbish.
Under the influence, an alchemist finds every device guzzling fuel.
Maryam samples the cuisine of different continents,
but does not scorn the good plain fare of the common folk.
A gentleman never takes the last piece from any plate but his own.
3. Avaritia (Greed)
Greed hungers to possess for oneself, and to keep from others,
whatever wealth or status or power might come to hand.
It clogs the exchange of goods, enriching and impoverishing.
In its grasp, pipes choke closed and throttles jam.
Maryam gives thanks for her family's wealth, but holds it loosely,
always ready to share with those who have greater need.
A halfpenny means more in a beggar's bowl than a lord's pocket.
4. Acedia (Sloth)
Sloth wastes the opportunities of time and skill brought to each day,
facing challenges with laziness and apathy instead of industry.
It leaves society beached and badly in need of oarsmen.
Its presence stifles the flow of steamworks, draining energy away.
Maryam rises with the sun, uses her hands as much as her mind,
and respects those who must work for a living.
A job well done is a day well spent.
5. Ira (Wrath)
Anger simmers and burns, nursing resentment for perceived wrongs
until it lashes out at the enemy -- and sometimes strikes a friend.
It breaks the bonds of trust that tie people together.
While it rages, crucibles boil over and athanors explode.
Maryam sees much in the world that is worthy of outrage,
but little that would be improved by raging.
A calm wind carries the sail; a storm destroys the ship.
6. Invidia (Envy)
Envy looks up to others and yearns to drag them down,
never satisfied with its own station nor leaving others to theirs.
It clamours for company in its utter and constant misery.
With its touch, materials become impure and fail to function.
Maryam understands that all lives blend sorry and joy,
albeit in different measure, and prefers her own to anyone else's.
A green-eyed monster sees no good in anyone's gifts.
7. Superbia (Pride)
Pride makes claims beyond the reach of prowess,
promises but does not deliver, praises what holds no worth.
It demands acclaim but does nothing to earn such respect.
As soon as the watchful eye turns aside, everything falls apart.
Maryam reflects on the ancestral wisdom in her coat of arms:
four peacocks close proper, artistry without arrogance.
A sensible shopper knows quality when he sees it.
A delicate thing is the balance of humours,
constantly changing within its buffered range.
There are guidelines but no gauges
upon the engine of the soul.
Every alchemist must learn how to handle it,
finding their own safety valves, to make full steam ahead.
Maryam's introspection considers the steamworks within.