Empire

Just under tree line
below the Continental Divide
the snow-crusted road swerves
where exposed rubble scrubs
interminable sky. As if
a great fire raged in the west,
ember-light glows on the topmost haunches
of earth while inside our tiny vehicle
we listen to a long-told story
about a real bird
and a mechanical bird,
and an Emperor visited by Death
who lives because he hears
once again the treasured song.
In the wild trees, beyond the far borders
of his garden, the little bird sang
with a voice like snow crystals
lifted by a long swirling wind.
How often do we choose
the radiantly jeweled thing
with innards like a clock,
when what makes us tick
is something plainer and stranger,
something terribly elusive
and infinitely joyful?
And we, in our sturdy and useful
vehicle, go on descending
the mountain, past the mine
that extracts a metal
that makes steel stronger.
After the tiny town of Empire,
a dozen ramshackle buildings
lit by neon Open signs, we join
the artery of brake lights above which
a single planet burns a hole now
slowly joined by more distant others,
some billions of suns
whose emissaries have traveled
so very long to reach us.