Inhale . . . exhale. Air in . . . air out. Awake or asleep, our bodies continue the vital action. Though we know that life stops
if breath stops, we routinely breathe without conscious thought. Yet, at times we may become intensely aware of this life force,
and perhaps of our own certain place in the universe.
mile high . . .
adding my breath
to the clouds
The scope of the haiku’s significance does not hit me all at once. Upon first reading, I think, “Ahh, an interesting
and contemplative observation.” But Jim Kacian’s poem, rich with literal and metaphorical interpretations, holds me
long past that initial response.
I wonder where the poet was at the time of his experience. He could have been on a mountain, climbing a rock face; he might have
been skydiving or hang-gliding. He could have been anywhere on land that is a mile above sea level as he watched his exhalation
in cold, clean air. Imagining my own breath joining the clouds, I remember a few lines from the poem “High Flight” by John
Gillespie Magee, Jr.: “Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth . . . / joined the tumbling mirth / of sun-split
clouds . . . / put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”
Finding a personal connection to the author’s experience leads me beyond his depiction of it. Eight carefully chosen, crucial
words, and only nine syllables—with the power to turn a reader’s mental gaze outward toward the stars, and
inward, to one’s most basic sense of existence and awareness of mortality. Haiku poets hope to instill that level of strength
in their work; those who accomplish it are masters indeed.
Practices within several religions and philosophies teach that healing body and mind is directly connected to respiration, that
breath joins outer awareness with inner sensation. Breath is the bridge between the body and the mind, our link between the physical
and the spiritual, a means of transcending everyday life. In order to regulate the body and mind, one must regulate breath. In Yoga
meditation, breath training is essential for deep meditation on the path to self-realization. In meditation as practiced in Zen
Buddhism, mind, body, and breath are as one.
Though not necessarily with religious or spiritual consciousness, most of us at some point will face a moment of sharp awareness
that everything physically human will eventually become astral dust. On a personal, inward journey guided by Kacian’s poem,
I realize anew that we all will become infinitesimally smaller pieces of the universe than we are now, our final breath lost to,
yet part of, all that is. Rather than sadness, I find comfort in this, and a sense of things being just as they should be.
Kacian handles the fundamentals of haiku writing with skill and ease: solid imagery that sharpens the reader’s perception and
allows new insight; concision, musicality, immediacy, and clear focus. Ensuring the poem’s success, the poet has combined
those elements in “mile high” to create the resonance that is prized above all else in this genre. If it is true that
the best haiku don’t really end, that instead they continue expanding in the reader’s mind, then Jim Kacian’s poem
exemplifies that quality.