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The world famous hot tub at Pineapple Hill where I read books and draft reviews in my head on summer mornings between sips of Bloody Mary is a slimy green mess. Here in the boonies, the mom & pop hardware store hasn’t seen spa chemicals since before the pandemic. The big stores in town have five gallon buckets for fifty bucks but all I need is the sixteen ounce bottle that goes for nine.

As a result, I went out to the second floor porch and climbed into the hammock with Virginia Aronson’s new collection of poems called Hikikomori. That’s Japanese. It translates to “pulling inward, to stay in or withdraw, to confine oneself indoors.” Instead of Bloody Mary, I brought Cuba Libre. I’d have brought sake if I had any and drank it warm from a teeny tiny cup. Heating it sure seems to enhance the buzz. Maybe that explains the itsy bitsy portions. One winter a long time ago in West Virginia I took a pal to a party given by my Japanese language instructor and, a bourbon drinker, he scoffed at the refreshments. However, just a few hours later he lay down on her couch to “take a nap” and even spoke a little Japanese before passing out. But that’s not what Virginia Aronson’s poems are about.

What I like most about Virginia Aronson’s work is her ability to go deep without needing an actual submarine to get there. She free-dives. Take a big breath, bend at the waist, swim like a porpoise to where the water gets dark. No, Virginia doesn’t require a lot of moving parts to go down beyond where most other writers venture.

In Hikikomori, cadence works with imagery to create intensity that’s also calm and collected. The poems, side notes, and a glossary of pertinent words tell the impact of isolation and loneliness in a culture that expects the self to be sacrificed for the good of the whole. Virginia reveals for us the consequences of going against the current, of hiding away for decades—in some cases for one’s entire life. Hikikomori is a frail framework, cocooning gone wrong, Failure to Launch taken to dangerous extremes. The physical, emotional, and spiritual damage on those that hide away and on the parents that feed and shelter them is immense yet kept hidden. What will happen to these poor souls keeping to themselves in small rooms, food slipped to them through the door, some in their forties and fifties, when parents become sick or too old to keep helping? To die with this worry is a parent’s worst nightmare.

In this very moment, how many souls exist in the light of but a single candle—themselves?

There’s a lot to work with here if you’ve got spa chemicals or at least a good hammock. In Hikikomori you might be reminded of Millennials driven into basements by the Great Recession, grade schoolers kept at home away from classrooms and playgrounds because of Covid, and people of all ages divided from one another along fault lines of race, religion, gender, income, and so much else. You might see where all this cancel culture is headed, pulling us apart and into ourselves.

Take a big breath. Submerge. Swim like a porpoise down to where the water gets dark.

Then return to the surface and the light of the sun. Because to be out in the world enjoying one another is best.

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