NeverEnding Story

The following haiku, senryu, and tanka have all appeared on Chen-ou Liu’s “NeverEnding Story” blog, with his translations into traditional and simplified Chinese, plus his occasional commentary. The most recent postings appear first. My gratitude to Chen-ou Liu for welcoming and translating my poems. All poems have been previously published in other journals, as indicated (sometimes not indicated).



funeral’s end—
a whisper passed
from ear to ear
                Bundled Wild Flowers, 2020 [Haiku Society of America anthology]       +

                  葬禮結束—
                  流言
                  傳來傳去

                                    葬礼结束—
                                    流言
                                    传来传去

Line one sets the theme and mood while lines two and three reveal something “unpleasant” about the deceased person or his/her family members or the relationships among them, or the relationships among the deceased person, his/her family and friends, and relatives . . . or “just something about Human Nature.” This guessing game or this reader’s interpretations function like a chain of gossip/whispers.



late show on TV—
I finish cleaning up
for the cleaning lady
                Tinywords 16:1, 1 April 2016

                  深夜電視節目—
                  我做完清理
                  清潔女工的工作

                                    深夜电视节目—
                                    我做完清理
                                    清洁女工的工作

Michael’s shasei haiku [I would call it a senryu] is tightly structured with an emotional undercurrent, and the use of repetition, “cleaning,” is thematically significant and emotionally effective: the first one says something about the speaker’s personality/character trait while the second one reveals the cleaning lady’s work ethic.



night jog—
sparks from a train
rounding a turn
                Tinywords 11:1, 6 April 2011

                  夜間慢跑—
                  火車在轉彎之處
                  散發出火花

                                    夜间慢跑—
                                    火车在转弯局部
                                    散发出火花

An “ordinary sparkling moment” is keenly captured in this shasei / sketching-from-life, imagistic haiku. And it might be interesting to do a comparative reading of my jogging haiku from NeverEnding Story, 4 March 2019:

a lone runner
silhouetted against the sky
dawn chorus


2 October 2020
   
crackling beach fire—
we hum in place of words
we can’t recall
                The Heron’s Nest 6:11, December 2004

                  啪啪作響的海灘營火
                  在所忘事物之處
                  我們哼哼低唱

                                    啪啪作响的海滩营火
                                    在所忘事物之
                                    们哼哼低唱

The contrasting auditory images of crackling beach fire and humming is effective, and the humming (in place of words forgotten, not instead of not speaking) enhances the emotional appeal to the reader.



the leaf gone
but the imprint remains—
my heart as hard
as this concrete
after your suicide
                Red Lights 3:1, 2007

                  葉子飄落不見
                  但是它的痕跡依然存在—
                  在你自殺之後
                  我的心就像是混凝土
                  一樣地堅硬

                   叶子飘落不见
                                    但是它的痕迹依然存在—
                                    在你自杀之后
                                    我的心就像是混凝土
                                    一样地坚硬

The contrasts (leaf gone vs. life lost, imprint vs. concrete) between the two parts of the tanka are visually and emotionally poignant, reminding me of the following thought-provoking remark made by my late friend, Brian Zimmer, who died in 2014: “The leaf does not grasp or grieve its last day” (from Spring’s First Caress: Tanka, 2015).


27 June 2020

spring lightning—
a flower’s shadow
against the fortress wall
                 The Heron’s Nest 19:3, September 2017
                 The Sleepless Planet, Tokyo: Shichigatsu-do, 2018

                  春天的閃電—
                  堡壘牆上一朵花
                  的陰影

                                    春天的闪电—
                                    堡垒墙上一朵花
                                    的阴影

Enhanced by the cinematic zoom-in technique, a moment of fragile beauty is keenly captured in this imagistic haiku.


17 June 2020

warm summer night—
our first kiss
lingers long enough
for the lighthouse beam
to flash again
                 Red Lights 3:1, 2007


                  溫暖的夏天夜晚
                  我們的初吻
                  持續足夠久的時
                  燈塔的光束
                  再一次閃爍

                                    温暖的夏天夜晚
                                    们的初
                                    续足够久的时间
                                    灯塔的光束
                                    再一次闪烁

Line one sets the scene and mood while the symbolically rich and visually evocative image of flashing beams of light in lines four and five enhances the emotionally suggestive power of the “first kiss” in line two. A fresh and passionate “first kiss” tanka.

5 November 2019

a week after
my coworker’s suicide
the sculpture on her desk
collapses—magnetic paper clips
that held nothing together
                Honorable Mention, 2008 Tanka Society of America International Tanka Contest

                  我的同事自殺
                  一個星期之後
                  她桌子上的雕塑
                  崩塌一堆磁性文件夾
                  無法固定任何的東西

                                    我的同事自
                                    一个星期之后
                                    她桌子上的雕塑
                                    崩塌一堆磁性文件
                                    无法固定任何的东西

“Michael Dylan Welch’s sculpture of paper clips—something we have all seen, and may even have on our own desk tops—is turned into a powerful metaphor about the fragility of life, and of individual purpose, in our time . . .” —excerpted from the judges’ commentary       +

The following suicide tanka by Michael Dylan Welch could be read as a sequel to his poignant tanka above (also published on 24 March 2017 with Chinese translations—see below):

                shiny pens and a stapler—
                no one tells
                the new hire
                his desk is where
                the suicide sat
                                Gusts #17, Spring/Summer 2013


23 August 2019


bills due—
in my dream
the endless stairs
           Tinywords 18:2, 26 November 2018

                                                賬單到期
                                                在我的夢中
                                                無盡長的樓梯

                                                  账单到期
                                                                                                在我的梦中
                                                                                                无尽长的楼梯

The visually and emotionally poignant juxtaposition of “bills due” and the “endless stairs” suggests feelings of frustration and even hopelessness.


26 June 2019

all my books collect dust
except the one of love poems
you gave me that day
when the spring rains
kept us indoors
            Winner, 1992 Tanka Splendor Contest

                                                除了愛情詩集
                                                我所有的書都在堆積灰塵
                                                你給我的那一天
                                                正在下春雨
                                                我們留在室內躲雨

                                                 除了爱情诗集
                                                                                                我所有的书都在堆积灰尘
                                                                                                你给我的那一天
                                                                                                正在下春雨
                                                                                                我们留在室内躲雨

This middle-of-the-story tanka is tightly structured with an emotional undercurrent. The only book, a book of love poems, that doesn’t gather dust is the one given by the speaker’s loved one years ago when they were kept indoors due to spring rains. But what has happened between this couple? We don’t know about it. All that we know is this book of love poems constantly read by the speaker.


13 June 2019

fox on the trail—
your hand held up
to my chest
            Tinywords 15:1, 7 May 2015

                                                狐狸在小徑上
                                                你的手
                                                緊靠在我的胸口

                                                 狐狸在小径上
                                                                                                你的手
                                                                                                紧靠在我的胸

A moment of silence and tenderness is well captured in this haiku that is tightly structured with an emotional undercurrent. What’s left unsaid is at least as potent as what’s said.

12 November 2018

a wisp of snow
curls in from the door—
the bookstore cat
settles at last
in the poetry section
                Mariposa #36, Spring/Summer 2017

                  一縷雪
                  從門口飄進來
                  書店的貓
                  終於在詩集部門之處
                  安定下來了

                   缕雪
                                    门口飘进来
                                    书店的猫
                                    终于在诗集部门之处
                                    安定下来了 

The upper verse sets the scene and seasonal context while the unexpected yet thematically significant last line shows the comforting power of poetry. And “at last” in line four adds emotional strength to this heartwarming tanka.

пласт снега
свернулся у дверей
кот из книжного магазина
наконец-то устраивается
в отделе поэзии

                (Russian translation by Nikolay Grankin, posted to Facebook)


29 May 2018

for your eyes only,
she says with a shy nod—
I think about this
then raise a hand to caress
her remaining breast
                Gusts #26, Fall/Winter 2017

                                                她害羞地點頭
                                                只是給你的眼睛看

                                                我想了一下
                                                然後舉起手來撫摸
                                                她所剩下的乳房

                                                 
她害羞地点头说
                                                                                                只是给你的眼睛看
 
                                                                                                我想了一下
                                                                                                然后举起手来抚
                                                                                                她所剩下的乳房

Michael’s tanka builds, line by line, to an unexpected yet visually and emotionally powerful last line that has the most weight, effectively conveying a sense of “tenderness” (which is found “in the tendency to make one’s own the feelings and mental states of another person”).


26 May 2017

only so far
onto the beach
tracks of a wheelchair
                Tinywords 15:1, 6 March 2015       +

                  只有到達這麼遠
                  海灘上一張輪椅
                  的胎痕

                                    只有到达这么远
                                    海滩上一张轮
                                    的胎痕


24 March 2017

shiny pens and a stapler—
no one tells
the new hire
his desk is where
the suicide sat
                Gusts #17, Spring/Summer 2013

                  閃亮的鋼筆和訂書機
                  沒有人告訴
                  新員工
                  他的辦公桌
                  是自殺前僱員的

                                    闪亮的钢笔和订书机
                                    没有人告
                                    新员工
                                    他的办公桌
                                    是自杀前僱员的

In such a short space of five lines and eighteen words, Michael effectively creates atmosphere (lines one and three) and suspense (line two) in this powerful and disturbing middle-of-the-story of tempestuous office relationships.


20 November 2016       +

train depot—
a wet leaf clings
to the stroller wheel

                  火車站
                  一片濕的葉子緊貼
                  在嬰兒車輪上

                                    
                                    一片湿的叶子紧贴
                                    在
车轮

unused symphony ticket—
the price
when she was a girl

                  未用過的交響音樂票
                  她是小女孩時
                  的票價

                                    未用过的交响音乐票
                                    她是小女孩时
                                    的票价


sapwood—
I learn something new
about my mother

                  邊材
                  關於母親我有更深一層
                  的了解

                                    边材
                                    关於母亲我有更深一层
                                    的了解



21 April 2016

the doctor tells us
of the baby’s heart murmur—
outside the hospital window
snow half way
down the distant mountain
                Honorable Mention, 2006 Tanka Society of America International Tanka Contest

                  醫生告訴我們
                  寶寶的心臟有雜音
                  在醫院窗外
                  雪花飄落到遠山
                  的半山腰之處

                                    医生告诉我们
                                    宝宝的心脏有杂音
                                    在医院窗外
                                    雪花飘落到远
                                    的半山腰之


14 March 2016

a firefly’s glow
against her palm
passed to mine
                Tinywords 11:1, 12 April 2011

                  螢火蟲的光芒
                  對照著她的手掌
                  再傳到我的手掌

                                    萤火虫的光
                                    对照着她的手
                                    再传到我的手


24 December 2015

jingle of the dog’s collar

out in the hall—
we pause
in our lovemaking,
Christmas Eve
                American Tanka #11, 2007

                  狗頸圈的鈴鐺聲
                  迴盪在大廳裡
                  我們暫停
                  做愛,
                  平安夜來臨了

                                    颈圈的铃铛
                                    迴盪在大厅里
                                    我们暂
                                    做
                                    平安夜来

Michael’s sensual tanka effectively builds, phrase/line (ku) by phrase/line (ku), to an unexpected yet emotionally powerful ending—Christmas Eve. And the opening and closing lines resonate and extend each other’s meanings. A sensually fresh take on Christmas tanka.


14 January 2015

children’s
book
sh
elves

Best of Showcase,
Under the Bashō, 2013 (also published previously)



This minimalist visual haiku is made up of two words: children’s bookshelves, and Michael’s thematically and emotionally effective typographical arrangement of bookshelves—book, sh (an exclamation to request silence or quiet), elves (plural form of elf)—not only holds the surprise and excitement of the poem, but also adds mythological depth to the poem. Below is excerpted from the Wikipedia entry on “elf”:

An elf (plural: elves) is a type of supernatural being in Germanic mythology and folklore. Reconstructing the early concept of an elf depends almost entirely on texts in Old English or relating to Norse mythology. Later evidence for elves appears in diverse sources such as medical texts, prayers, ballads, and folktales. . . . The “Christmas elves” of contemporary popular culture are of relatively recent tradition, popularized during the late nineteenth-century in the United States. Elves entered the twentieth-century high fantasy genre in the wake of works published by authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien.


27 October 2014

another feeding—
again we count
his fingers and toes
and they’re all
still there
                Rivet #13, June 2005

                  再一次餵食
                  我們再度數算
                  他的手指和腳趾
                  它們都安然
                  健在

                                    再一次餵食
                                    我们再度数算
                                    他的手指和脚趾
                                    它们都安然
                                    健在

The collocation of “another feeding” and “again we count/ his fingers and toes” is emotionally effective, showing readers the meaning of parenthood.


7 October 2014

by Ki no Tomonori (translated by Emiko Miyashita and Michael Dylan Welch)

ひさかたのひかりのどけき春の日にしづ心なく花の散るらん                            紀友則

hisakata no hikari nodokeki harunohi ni shizugokoro naku hana no chiruran                    Ki no Tomonori


the light filling the air
is so mild this spring day
only the cherry blossoms
keep falling in haste—
why is that so?
                Back Cover Tanka, Ribbons, 8:1, Spring/Summer 2012 (also published previously)

                  陽光瀰漫
                  這個春天如此地溫和
                  只有櫻花
                  不斷匆忙地飄落
                  為什麼會這樣呢 ?

                                    阳光瀰漫
                                    这个春天如此地温和
                                    只有樱花
                                    不断匆忙地飘落
                                    为什麽会这样呢 ?

Lines one to four are a simple statement of the narrator’s observation while line five, the rhetorical question, lifts the poem a notch, sparking the reader’s reflection on the ephemerality of beauty.


7 October 2014

foreclosure notice—
an ice cream truck
comes and goes
                Frogpond 36:3, Autumn 2013

                  房屋止贖通知
                  流動冰淇淋車
                  來了又走了

                                    房屋止赎通知
                                    流动冰淇淋车
                                    来了又走了

I think there’s a deeper sadness to the contrast between the necessity of housing and the treat of ice cream. And perhaps, too, the foreclosure will come and go like the ice cream truck, and maybe things will be better down the road. Maybe someone would argue that there is a cause-and-effect reason why the ice cream truck comes and goes: it’s because no one in the foreclosed/empty house comes out to buy ice cream). I don’t think so. It’s mainly because the ice cream truck owner doesn’t just come to one house—he drives his ice cream truck through neighborhoods for potential buyers.


31 July 2014

ink-stained hands
my pen leaks
a haiku
                ant ant ant ant ant #2, Summer 1995

                  墨染的手
                  我鋼筆流漏出
                  一首俳句詩

                                    墨染的手
                                    我钢笔流漏出
                                    一首俳句

Juxtaposed with the image of messy hands, Michael’s well-chosen verb makes this meta-poem about writing effective as a haiku with an aesthetic focus on the “hai.”


7 March 2014

spring breeze—
the pull of her hand
as we near the pet store
                Into the Open: Poems from Poets of the Sixth Skagit River Poetry Festival, 2010
                (also published previously)

                  春風起
                  當我們走近寵物店
                  她輕拉我的手

                                    风起
                                    当我们走近宠物店
                                    她轻拉我的手


27 June 2013

a table for one—
leaves rustle
in the inner courtyard
                Into the Open: Poems from Poets of the Sixth Skagit River Poetry Festival, 2010
                (also published previously)

                  一人用餐
                  在庭院
                  樹葉的沙沙聲

                                    一人用餐
                                    在庭院内
                                    树叶的沙沙声

A sense of loneliness (or aloneness) conveyed in the context-setting first line is enhanced by the seasonal connotation of the aural image portrayed in lines two and three, which work effectively on at least two levels, literal and metaphoric. The place metaphor (“inner courtyard”) is well chosen.


1 February 2013

first star—
a seashell held
to my baby’s ear
                Into the Open: Poems from Poets of the Sixth Skagit River Poetry Festival, 2010
                (also published previously)

                  第一顆星
                  將一個海貝貼近
                  我嬰兒 的耳

                                    第一颗星
                                    将一个海贝贴近
                                    我婴儿 的耳

The perceptual shift foregrounds the contrasts between the two parts of the poem. And the speaker shows his/her tender care in an effort to help the baby form an intimate relationship with nature.


8 January 2013

spring breeze—
the pull of her hand
as we near the pet store
                Into the Open: Poems from Poets of the Sixth Skagit River Poetry Festival, 2010
                (also published previously)

                  春風起
                  當我們走近寵物店
                  她輕拉我的手

                                    风起
                                    当我们走近宠物店
                                    她轻拉我的手

Line one successfully sets the scenic context for the poem while lines two and three reveal an emotional undercurrent.