Ninesteps watches his lion lie
in the bucket where he set it:
first to flare is the tuft
on the tail of the beast, curled
in the seam of the pail's base -
its tempo twitch a cub's annoyance
at the chafe of infant constraints.
Ninesteps, too, is impatient.
He coils a smoke-rope tendril
in his lung as his lion's loin
grows tuffs of hotblack curls.
As a heart's ember glows and dims
and glows in its chest he smiles
and shifts on his knee, and watches.
Ninesteps claps as the lion's mane
erupts from the neck - a pride
of flames to chase impala stains
across the dried savannah carpet.
His lion looks up at the sound,
lifts his paw to let the lick
of heat sharpen claws; it pounces
at Ninesteps, struggles to lever
its haunch across the rim
of its lair, leaps up to reach
the table cave where the boy
huddles with matches; when
he sets out his hand to stroke
his friend, the lion roars -
a deep rumble that sets a gale
among the bedroom curtains
and drives the angel mobile
to dance on the pins of soot
snowflakes blooming the air,
and across the peach fuzz
of Ninesteps' wrists the furs
of hot gloves knit to skin.