The Year the Rice-Crop Failed

by Melanie Drane

The year we married, rainy season lasted

so long the rice crop failed. People gave up

trying to stay dry; abandoned umbrellas

littered the streets like dead birds. One evening

that summer, a typhoon broke the waters

of the Imperial moat and sent orange carp flopping

through the streets around the train station,

under the feet of people trying to go home.

The stairs to the temple became impassable;

fish slid down them in a waterfall, heavy

and golden as yolks. That night, I woke you

when the walls of our home began to shake;

we held our breath while the earth tossed,

counted its pulse as though we could protect

what we’d thought would cradle us –

then the room went still and you moved away,

back into sleep like a slow swimmer,

your eyes and lips swollen tight with salt.

The next morning, a mackerel sky hung over Tokyo.

The newspaper confirmed the earthquake

started inside the sea. I watched you dress to leave,

herringbone suit, shirt white as winter, galoshes

that turned your shoes into small, slippery otters.

After you were gone, I heard hoarse and angry screams;

a flock of crows landed on the neighbor’s roof,

dark messengers of Heaven. Did they come to reassure,

to tell me we’d be safe, that we would find

our places no matter how absurd it seemed,

like the fish sailing through the streets,

uncertain, but moving swiftly?