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Poem: "A Cat May Look at a Queen" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "A Cat May Look at a Queen"
This poem is from the July 1, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from janetmiles, moriwen1, technoshaman, technogeekslass, and DW user Dialecticdreamer.  It also fills the "holly" square in my 6-18-14 card for the Christmas in July Bingo fest.  This poem belongs to the series The Steamsmith.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them.  Remember that this series costs double.  The rate is $1/line, so $5 will reveal 5 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses. So far sponsors include: marina_bonomi, general fund

134 lines, Buy It Now = $134
Amount donated = $49
Verses posted = 12 of 37

Amount remaining to fund fully = $85
Amount needed to fund next verse = $2
Amount needed to fund the verse after that = $3

A Cat May Look at a Queen

Maryam looked quite smart
in her holiday suit of white broadcloth
with a peacock-blue shirt underneath,
striking against her dark skin.

She had a tall hat of pressed felt,
along with matching gloves and boots
of supple white leather, all very seasonal.

She had, too, a leash and cloak
and little Wellingtons for Farasat,
but of necessity these were black
since white would not last very long
when worn by a cheetah.

The Queen was holding one of many
holiday events at the palace,
this one intended for alchemists,
so up they dressed and off they went.

Farasat had even been included
in the invitation by name,
cheetahs being rare and remarkable
assistants to lucky alchemists.

The only other one in the palace was
an elderly female, her muzzle going gray,
who belonged to some Hindoo fellow
whom Maryam did not know.

The two cheetahs sniffed noses
and curled up complacently
beside a roaring hearth
festooned with holly boughs
while their respective humans
sipped glasses of hot sherry flip.

Suddenly both cats looked up,
and Farasat climbed to his feet.
Looking around, Maryam saw
that the Queen had arrived.

Maryam set aside her empty glass
and headed for the Queen,
Farasat pulling at his leash
as if he knew where they were going.

Victoria had installed herself
beneath an arch of holly and ivy
so that everyone could find her easily
but she could not be surrounded.

That's a clever bit of staging,
Maryam mused as she approached.

Victoria was resplendent
in a gown of emerald green,
bodice threaded with silver and gold,
pinned by a brooch of holly made
from jade and rubies.

Farasat gazed at her with awe,
and even old Ranee was watching.

"I don't like the way those wild beasts
are staring at you so, Your Majesty,"
grumbled one lady-in-waiting.

"Psh!" said Her Majesty.
"A cat may look at a queen."

Farasat chose that moment
to jump on her.

"Ooof! And put his paws on her gown, too,"
said Victoria. "Down you go, dear, this is silk."

But Farasat had his jaws locked around
the jeweled broach between her breasts
and would not be moved until he had detached it,
leaving two ragged holes in the glossy brocade.

"Your Majesty, I am so sorry --"
Maryam began, then paused.

Farasat had dropped the brooch to the carpet
and covered it with one broad paw.
Looking up at his mistress, he gave a loud
"Mow! Mow!" alarm call.

"If you would all step back, please,
that's an alarm for alchemical anomalies,"
Maryam explained, waving her hands
in their white leather gloves.

Old Henry brought over a shielded box --
"One never knows what will go off
at a festive event," he said --
and scooped up the offending brooch.

"Best get this to your palace alchemists
for analysis," Maryam suggested.

"Indeed," said the Queen,
her eyes narrowing.
"Have you any idea what
it was intended to do?"

"It could be meant for spying
or for something more destructive,"
Maryam said. "I don't know.
I really haven't the experience
in that sort of mischief.
Who gave it to you?"

"That Swiss alchemist, Speicher,
said the Queen. "He gave it to me,
and it matched my dress, so I put it on.
He seemed quite pleased that I liked it."

"Or that it was free to do
whatever it was meant,"
Maryam pointed out.
"It might be prudent to have
gifts examined by an expert
prior to putting them in use."

Just then a scuffle broke out
as a short man who had been
edging toward the door
made a break for it.

"Ah, there goes Speicher now,"
cried the Queen.
"Someone hand him in!"

George Cavendish brought him down
with a lovely flying tackle into a table
draped in garlands of holly and pine.

The Queen sent her guards
to take charge of the prisoner
and inquire what he was about.

Then she asked after George's health,
who stammered that he was fine, really,
no need to worry on his account.

"Does Farasat like fish?" asked Victoria
as she headed to one of the surviving tables
along the banquet side of the hall.

"He loves fish," Maryam said,
then watched in bemusement
as the Queen forked a side of salmon
onto a china plate and set it on the floor.

Farasat fell upon it in delight,
gulped down several bites,
and then turned around
to cover the Queen's face
in raspy, fish-flavored kisses.

Maryam apologized again,
but Victoria just laughed and
sent one of her ladies-in-waiting
for a bowl of violet water to wash with.

"Farasat saved the day," said the Queen.
"He's entitled to a fish and a kiss."

* * *


Maryam's suit looks something like this, albeit with a much less frilly shirt in blue.  She prefers to take a man's role in society and to dress as a gentleman. Broadcloth was traditionally made from wool, although now most of it is cotton or synthetics.

Victorian Christmas decorations featured a variety of evergreens with holiday symbolism.

Holly is associated with Christmas and stands for eternal life, good luck, protection, and the crown of thorns.

Sherry Flip is one of the oldest cocktails and most famous winter drinks.  Originally heated with a hot poker from the fireplace, it is usually made as a cold drink now.

Ivy is a traditional Christmas decoration that represents eternity, fidelity, and commitment.

Victoria's gown resembles this one. Brocade is an ornate fabric as seen on the bodice.

See a historic map of Europe.

Pine is a traditional Christmas plant which represents peace, stability, protection, and longevity.

Violet water is a type of eau de toilette.  As an herb or essential oil, violet is cooling, cleansing, and soothing.  Violet water has similar qualities, just not as potent.

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21 comments or Leave a comment
thnidu From: thnidu Date: August 14th, 2014 04:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
The Holly and the Ivy is a traditional pairing and a very much loved traditional carol.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 14th, 2014 08:05 pm (UTC) (Link)


That's a favorite of mine.
starcat_jewel From: starcat_jewel Date: September 10th, 2014 04:19 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

Have you heard Golden Bough's version? It has quite spoiled me for any other, because they FIXED the horrible glitch in the scansion that every other version uses. (On their album "Winter's Dance".)

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 10th, 2014 04:49 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

I'm not sure. Probably; I like Golden Bough.
siege From: siege Date: August 15th, 2014 03:53 am (UTC) (Link)

Dream symbols

I've been working on a dream dictionary, with the working title "Dream Symbols for Earth Dwellers", for mostly non-culture-specific dream interpretation. One section covers plants. Here are the interpretations for holly and ivy:

* Holly - This is a succulent plant, related to pines and aloes, which is adapted to cold weather conditions; it is always green when healthy, often a very deep color in winter. It has thick, flat, spiky leaves, and grows berries that are bright red. In a Christian context, its berries symbolize the blood of Christ, while its always-green nature symbolizes eternal life. In a more Pagan or non-religious context, holly presents a message of enduring life and eternal restoration.

* Ivy - This is a twining vine which grows in many places. Ivy is basically harmless, though it can slowly cover buildings and sometimes trees, and can eventually choke them with the mass of its vines if allowed to accumulate. It needs sunlight and clean water to grow. Ivy is the common plant for a message of Spirit; it has a Christian subtext, being paired with holly as a symbol of natural abundance against the symbol of blessed blood, but Diety or Spirit will use this humble plant to show itself in many ways. As a vine, its tendrils may point to something or reach across a gap.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 15th, 2014 03:57 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Dream symbols

>> I've been working on a dream dictionary, with the working title "Dream Symbols for Earth Dwellers", for mostly non-culture-specific dream interpretation. <<

That sounds wonderful! Thanks for sharing your plant interpretations.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: September 10th, 2014 03:18 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Dream symbols

I like the way you have included both Christian and non-Christian meanings that fit together.

If I may: Deity is the correct spelling of this word, from Latin "Deus".
siege From: siege Date: September 10th, 2014 03:27 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Dream symbols

Thank you.

I've been writing the document in Notepad, so spellcheck is nonexistent. I'll give it all a good twice-over once I'm preparing for editing.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: September 11th, 2014 02:17 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Dream symbols

Here's an offer, then. I never use spellcheck, because I have a far better spellchecker in my head than any software ever created. I'm somewhat supernary for editing in general, and do it on a regular basis while enjoying the writings of ysabetwordsmith and some of her fellow webficcers, if they want it. I'll do the same for you, if you like.
siege From: siege Date: September 11th, 2014 02:26 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Dream symbols

I appreciate the offer. I also have an "internal editor" that never quite shuts up, so I've been doing similar things for years (just not so much for other people; I'm often uncertain of my reception). For the past several months, my brain has been undergoing some changes, so I've been missing details I normally wouldn't have. A simple reminder should suffice to bring me back up to speed on a spelling error, but it wouldn't hurt to have a few pre-readers in case there are other issues. I'll keep you in mind!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 11th, 2014 04:12 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Dream symbols

I recommend thnidu as an editor!
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: September 10th, 2014 05:25 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Dream symbols

Actually holly, pines, and aloes aren't related at all.

Holly is a dicot, aloe is a monocot, (both angiosperms) and pine is a gymnosperm. Aloe is the only succulent of the three.

I'm afraid I kind of grew up around this stuff -- Mom is an amateur botanist, and my brother is a professional taxonomist.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: September 10th, 2014 06:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you.
siege From: siege Date: September 11th, 2014 12:36 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Dream symbols

Thank you. I'll be sure to research the taxonomies better before publishing; the dream-work is its own thing, but I'm the one who's been adding the waking-world details.
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: September 10th, 2014 03:47 am (UTC) (Link)
Very nice! I like the twist -- and smart cat being smart.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 10th, 2014 09:19 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

Farasat is kind of like a bomb-sniffing dog. He's not sapient, but he is quite smart and he can sense things that most humans can't.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: September 10th, 2014 06:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
<pokes at the brooch>
But what does it *do*?
cat_sanctuary From: cat_sanctuary Date: September 10th, 2014 11:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 12th, 2014 01:52 am (UTC) (Link)


I'm not completely certain. My strongest suspicion is that it was meant for spying. You can prompt for this later if you want to know.
kestrels_nest From: kestrels_nest Date: September 15th, 2014 03:29 am (UTC) (Link)
I love the image of Farasat stretching up to give the Queen thank-you kisses!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 15th, 2014 03:55 am (UTC) (Link)


I'm glad that worked for you. In writing Farasat, I try to combine feline behavior with a bit from dog behavior to account for the fact that he's so much bigger than a housecat.
21 comments or Leave a comment