A Day's Breath: Selected Haiku


Kristin Boryca

James Millikin Honors Project
Millikin University, Spring 2001

Kristin Boryca

A Day's Breath


I would like to thanks Dr. Randy Brooks for all his advising expertise and all of his hard work over the past two years. Thank you for guiding me and, often times, for pushing me.

Also, I would like to thank those who helped edit my haiku: Kay Millikin, Melanie Hayes, Melissa Hayes and Gavena Dahlman. Each one of you added your fingerprint to this collection. Thank you for your time and hard work.

Introduction by the Author

For me, haiku come as days draw breaths, sometimes slow and lazily, like yawning or blowing a bubble and sometiems quick, written with the urgency of someone who has just seen or experienced something so powerful that they need to write it down and preserve it, for whatever length of time, in a simple effort to remember what the feeling was all about. And, inevitably, the perishability of the moment takes hold, ending the reality that was captured in earnest only to be born into existence again when the haiku is acknowledged as possessing that special gift as it is shared among friends.

To write haiku often times means taking the backseat. Every haiku has its day to be born, to struggle through the clumsiest of words and rise to consciousness. Each haiku seeks out its own balance of brevity and strength, emotion and objectivity, perishability and rapture. As the writer, I exist to mediate the negotiations of these issues, allowing each haiku time to unfold its own mystery.

I thought that this collection would come with a set of guidelines with which to write haiku, a set of steps that I could divulge in wonder to all those who seek to experiment with this art form. However, I have no such information. There is no twelve-step program to follow, or even a simple three step one. What I do have, however, is a keen awareness of the importance of the audience. As a writer and, perhaps, as a westerner, it is often hard to realize that each haiku has its own voice, a voice that doesn't just speak to me but rather reverberates in the minds of everyone who reads it. The language is not always the same and the words don't always hold the same connotations, but the essence of the haiku speaks to everyone, and everyone hears something different.

And so, at best I have a rough sectioning off of my haiku: four categories divided in reference to the range of emotion and influence they possess. One end of the spectrum consists of haiku that hold an intense amount of emotion that is generally universal in nature while the opposite end of the spectrum carries haiku where the amount of emotion it possesses is totally dependant on the reader.

Universal Emotion
The haiku at the top level, which express, generally, a universal emotion are often the more carefully crafted haiku that warrant a "perfect" or a "great image" identification tag from readers who help to assess my work. Most people, regardless of race, class or nationality can relate to these haiku because they carry images that are universally acknowledged for the emotions they evoke.

Moving down the spectrum, the haiku in the next level are more social. This level consists of haiku that everyone can relate to; however, they are generally not as emotionally packed as the previous category's haiku. While haiku at this level generally consist of a specific scene, the emotion is only evident when the reader is willing to indulge in the image, which produces, much like the first category, a more universal emotion.

As the spectrum continues, haiku that are more personal sprout into being. These haiku often use natural, sensual images to re-create personal events. The amount of people who can identify with the situations that are reflected in these haiku is more limited than with the first category, yet these haiku often strike a cord deep within the hearts of those who can relate to it. While these haiku are generally not regional or exclusive, they tend to identify circumstances that are particular and emotional rather than universal.

Likewise, it is the haiku at the bottom end of the spectrum that people respond to with hours of talking or writing and sharing of their memories or personal insight. Often objective and centering around the natural world, these haiku come out, perhaps, slightly clumsy, trying to record a specific instant that is often times difficult to explain, yet it is these haiku that when they touch peoples' lives, really bring with them a joy in the moment remembered or the realization that the experience, however insignificant, is shared by someone else.

It then becomes imperative to understand that accompanying the flow of content from a highly objective state to a more personal one, then to a more social state and, finally, to a more universal is the constant shift in audience, from readers who hesitate to engage in this eastern art form for too long to readers who wish to spend countless hours considering and contemplating a single haiku, letting it whisper its very own secrets to them.

It is in this way that spontaneity refers to not only the life captured in the haiku, but also the spontaneity with which a haiku comes to life in the reader's mind, resonating through their own personal experiences. It is in recognizing this sort of spontaneity that I recognize my audience, who is of wide and varied sorts. To eliminate nature in haiku, for example, means to elminate a section of readers who thrive on the existence of nature's link to life in an endless circle that is captured on rare occasions and penciled fervently on slivers of paper. On the other hand, the elimination of nature in haiku opens up the door to westerners scared of haiku or poetry, in general, because they feel they cannot relate to it. I find that if I look carefully enough, I will see a cowering group anxious to share their histories with me if only I find the specific door to open.

Thus, as each haiku struggles to breath, I open up a page to give it air without the effort it takes to dutifully put myself in or take myself out of the picture but, rather, let the situation decide which words would best define the moment. And the "something else" that is, perhaps, in the world carves itself onto the page, allowing me, at times, to rearrange the order or choose a different scene to aid it in its mission, which is, I believe, the right of the mediator to do as negotiations are in progress.

And, so, the title of this collection "A Day's Breath" refers to the opening and closing of each day in its perishable nature, while at the same time positioning each haiku in a circle of its own, speaking in the same ephemeral manner, yet living much longer. The cyclic motion of the opening and closing of days is reflected in the arrangment of the haiku in an eternal pattern of morning, afternoon and night. As the days draw breath, haiku seek out their own birth, through various languages, and slilp into the ears of the readers where they whisper different things to everyone, and it is here that I must take the backseat.

—Kristin Boryca • May 2001

January morning
she takes off her slippers
to climb on the scale

train ride home
the couple we thought were lovers
don’t even kiss goodbye

orange peels
on the open book
winter sunset



opened newspaper—
my inky fingers
play with the phone cord

mom refills their coffee . . .
summer rain
on the porch roof



beneath her foot
the sand dollar, broken

picking berries . . .
he shows me the scratch
crosses his scar



shallow creek—
the turtle’s shell
caked with mud

finally, a gas station
last roll of paper
floating on the toilet



snow drifts
even with his cane
her grave is too far

snowy path
I fit my footprints
inside his



running around the track—
my shadow
slides past me

in the mug
coffee ripples
her laugh


borrowed guitar—
my fingers
stretch for the cords

visiting hours
dad’s hand
on her cheek

below my window
his handwriting in the snow
Be My Valentine?

Christmas ornament—
the toddler
sees his face

her fingerprint
in his cheesecake—
first grandchild

tree lined river . . .
in the reflection
fingers sometimes touch



hair in her face
the widow retrieves the sheet
from the clothes line

raindrops on the window . . .
she rocks her baby
back to sleep



on her shelf
a puddle of solidified wax—
Sunday morning

the steady rhythm
of cars on the street
mid-day meditation



sounds in the dark—
on my nightstand
a cough syrup ring

walking to school—
this morning’s puddles,
our lakes!



over coffee
we talk of mom . . .

last patch of snow
on the same side
the moss



after communion—
five young men
still hunched over in prayer

old oak tree
in the cracked sidewalk
grandma’s initials


warning my sister . . .
our mother’s voice
in my own

the remains
of popcorn on the couch—
winter morning

      snow covered street
the car veers left
                    veers right

melting snow
the evergreen’s branches
touch the ground



on the dryer
her silk underwear—
Dad’s day for laundry

is he lost?
little boy
in the ornament aisle



Friday night
she lays back on the bed
to zip her pants

porch reading—
sweat off the glass
drops onto the page



heat lightning?
at the picnic table
she pours pink lemonade

summer sunset
their cars parked on the street
front bumper to front bumper



old bridge
the spot where he carved our names
worn smooth

skipping home—
tucked in my backpack
the spelling bee award



pastel sky
a windmill silhouette
pushes a purple cloud

apartment buildings
from one balcony to the next


in her shopping cart
she slows past the Special K

five glasses raised
for a Christmas toast—
the phone rings

open window
watermelon juice
sprays across the table

man with the hearing aid
shushes me



starless night . . .
in the distance
frogs talk

©2001 Kristin Boryca, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original author