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). Some commentaries have been very lightly edited.

5 June 2023


ink stain

on the pillow slip—

what else but write

can I do

while you’re gone

                  Tangled Hair, 2, 2000














Michael’s tanka effectively builds, poetic phrase/line by poetic phrase/line, to a thematically significant and emotionally powerful ending that reveals the theme of writing as a way of easing the pain of loneliness (as indicated in lines 3 through 5, the last of which has the most weight). And the following tanka could be read as a sequel:


                waking half way

                through the day

                half the sunshine

                half the pain

                —still time for a poem

                             Helen Buckingham, Little Purple Universes, 2011


1 November 2022


the skull of something

in the crawlspace

                  The Heron’s Nest 18:2, June 2016       +

                  房屋止贖通知 . . .



                                    房屋止赎通知 . . .



This fresh, ghostly, and effective juxtaposition makes the foreclosed house in line one function thematically and visually like an abandoned house haunted by a ghost, one that can be inferred from lines two and three. This is a fine “haiku noir, different from another of Michael’s foreclosure haiku below, one that could be read as a prequel:

foreclosure notice—

an ice cream truck

comes and goes

                  Frogpond 36:3, Autumn 2013 (this poem is also translated below, for 7 October 2014)

13 August 2022

dew on the morning paper—

grass blades


                  The Heron’s Nest 4:2, February 2002







The juxtaposition of dew (forming early in the morning) on the morning paper (on ones front lawn in a suburban neighborhood) and unbending grass blades (which means not a damp morning) is visually and emotionally evocative. This is a fine imagistic sketch from suburban life in the early morning with no human intrusion. Michaels shasei [sketch from life] haiku works well as a mood poem.

[What’s not stated in the commentary is that the grass blades are unbending from a previously bent position because I’ve just picked up the newspaper from that grass, which is damp, and that there is human “intrusion because I mean to imply that Ive just picked up the newspaper. The commentary seems to have missed my primary implication, but of course implication in haiku always risks the possibility that readers might not pick up on the intended suggestion.]

3 July 2021

funeral’s end—

a whisper passed

from ear to ear

                  Bundled Wild Flowers, 2020 [Haiku Society of America anthology]       +







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.

3 April 2021

late show on TV—

I finish cleaning up

for the cleaning lady

                  Tinywords 16:1, 1 April 2016







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.

4 January 2021

night jog—

sparks from a train

rounding a turn

                  Tinywords 11:1, 6 April 2011







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







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.

27 July 2020

the leaf gone

but the imprint remains—

my heart as hard

as this concrete

after your suicide

                  Red Lights 3:1, 2007











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







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











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











“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







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











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







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











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











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       +







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











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







unused symphony ticket—

the price

when she was a girl








I learn something new

about my mother







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











14 March 2016

a firefly’s glow

against her palm

passed to mine

                  Tinywords 11:1, 12 April 2011







24 December 2015

jingle of the dog’s collar

out in the hall—

we pause

in our lovemaking,

Christmas Eve

                  American Tanka #11, 2007











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





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

兒 童

儿 童

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











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 in 100 Poets: Passions of the Imperial Court (see poem 33), and printed on the back of 150,000,000 U.S. postage stamps in 2012





                  為什麼會這樣呢 ?





                                    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







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







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)







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)







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)



                  我嬰兒 的耳朵



                                    我婴儿 的耳朵

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)







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