What is Melanie Drane's poem "The Year The Rice Crop Failed" about?

Melanie Drane's poem "The Year the Rice Crop Failed" is about a sense of uncertainty between two newlyweds who aren't growing closer together despite adversity.

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Melanie Drane's "The Year the Rice Crop Failed" has two layers of meaning. On its surface, the poem is about a year in which the rice crop failed, which also happened to be the year the narrator and her husband married.

According to the poem, it was a year of disasters. Not only did the rainy season last so long that the rice crop failed and people stopped even trying to stay dry, but the waters overflowed and broke the moat at the Imperial palace, sending fish scattering into the streets.

An earthquake wakes the newlyweds at one point, and the narrator clings to her husband until the shaking stops, at which point he falls back asleep. At the end of the poem, the narrator watches her husband dress and leave, still feeling uncertain of her own safety in a world full of disasters and portents.

On another level, the poem is about the uncertainty the narrator feels about both her new marriage and the world as a whole. The various disasters the poem describes don't bring the newlyweds closer together; for instance, as soon as the earthquake stops, the narrator says her husband "moved away/back into sleep like a slow swimmer."

When the husband gets dressed and leaves, the narrator hears crows on the roof and wonders, "Did they come to reassure,/To tell me we'd be safe" despite all the calamities and the narrator's own sense of uncertainty and loneliness.

The narrator doesn't answer that question. Rather, the poem ends with that question hanging in the air, like the fear that another earthquake will follow the first or that her spouse might not return.

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