May 16–22, 2022
Aria Dominguez (she/they) is a writer whose poetry and creative nonfiction navigate the terrain between beauty and pain. Her work has been published in anthologies, and in 2021 she was the winner of the Porch Prize in creative nonfiction as well as a finalist for the nonfiction fellowship for emerging writers from Lighthouse Writers Workshop. This past fall, Dominguez was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Bernard Ferguson’s The Poetry of Revenge workshop. She works with a nonprofit focused on food justice and lives in Minneapolis with her son.
After months of research and equipment acquisition,
careful setup, three weeks of waiting for beneficial bacteria
to create a hospitable environment, my infinitely patient
nine-year-old is finally ready to bring fish home.
He is ecstatic. I’ve been telling him,
You know fish don’t live that long. Don’t get too attached.
What I mean is, Everything you love will crush your heart
and leave it floating upside down, blank-eyed and motionless.
What I mean is, How can I bear to hold more of your pain?
Isn’t it enough that his dad has cancer and a brain disorder,
the dog he cares for died, and this record-breaking winter
refuses to yield to a warmer, more hopeful season?
I follow him through towering aisles of tanks, nervously
reminding, Sometimes they don’t survive the transition.
There might be a problem with the aquarium, the pH balance.
He turns: I get it, Mom. Everything dies. I’m getting fish anyway.
Ok, I say. Ok. I yield to the quiet burbling of water, the green
of aquatic plants, the soothing sight of smooth scales slipping
through their small world without hesitation. He makes his choice,
carefully counting out dog-sitting money at the cash register.
He holds up the plastic bag with four darting mollies.
Eyes shining, he whispers, I love them already.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
Sometimes I know as a moment is happening that I am living in a poem and that I should try to fit it into lines later. This was one of those times.
What are you working on right now?
Way too many things! I’m pulled in too many directions. I’m working on a memoir, a book of essays, poems and other projects. Other pieces that don’t fit into any collection pull away my attention and demand to be written as well.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day would involve words put to paper, words read from paper, time out in nature, and being with my son. Bonus points if we’re traveling and seeing something new.
Where’s home for you? How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other places you’ve lived?
I’ve lived in Minneapolis for over twenty years, and grew up over the river in Saint Paul. We have a lot of green space and a vibrant literary community, with literary organizations, small presses, independent bookstores and lots of readings and events. The nearby murder of George Floyd and movements to acknowledge the genocide of the original Indigenous inhabitants of this land have resulted in more awareness of and conversations about racism and inequality, but systemic inequalities persist. Hopefully this shift to at least talking about the problem will lead to actual solutions. I haven’t lived elsewhere except three months each in Vermont and Costa Rica, and I found what I missed most were all the libraries and bookstores I frequent here. I am spoiled by being able to get any book I want.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
We visited filmmaker friends in Brooklyn eight years ago and loved it! I have wanted to return ever since, although unfortunately our friends aren’t there anymore. We took a long walk to and through Prospect Park, ate at charming cafés and squeezed into a tiny restaurant with the best Thai food. The hospitality of our friends made the neighborhood feel especially homey and welcoming. Being in Brooklyn was the best part of our time in NYC.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?
I haven’t found a well-defined poetry community where I live, although I have a friend and a family member who read and write poetry who I can always geek out with. Last fall I was invited to start a poetry segment on our local radio station KFAI, and I’m hoping that leads to building more virtual community around a love of poetry. I’ve already gotten messages from people who have had questions about the poems or appreciated them, and I’m hoping to get all the audio up on the Instagram @poetry_picnic_mpls. I’m not really into social media, but I do see the opportunity for connecting over shared interests. I’m intrigued by what a poetry community could mean and would like to find more of that in the future. Being a single parent during a pandemic wasn’t conducive to connecting with adult in-person community of any kind.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
The teacher (Bernard Ferguson) and fellow students in the Poetry of Revenge last fall created an amazing environment where we were able to wrestle with complicated questions and push boundaries. Everyone had brilliant insights and work I felt privileged to read. Because it was virtual, we weren’t all actually in Brooklyn, but since it was taught from there, my mind sort of assigned the whole experience to Brooklyn.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
Alison McGhee was my first creative writing teacher and has been my multigenre mentor for many years. She inspired and encouraged me to be a writer and has been steadfast in supporting me as I have grown. She’s also bossy and harasses me to spend time doing things I don’t care for but which are important, such as submissions for publication. She’s not only taught me how to write better, but how to critique better, as her suggestions always lead toward making my work more what I want it to be rather than something different that she would want it to be. I wouldn’t be the writer I am without her.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
The latest poetry books I’ve read were Felon by Reginald Dwayne Betts, Thrown in the Throat by Benjamin Garcia, Return Flight by Jennifer Huang, Sho by Douglas Kearney and Incendiary Art by Patricia Smith. Each of those volumes stunned me. They were incredibly different from each other, but similar in their masterful wielding of words. So many lines that made me catch my breath and put the book down to just let it sink in. So many stanzas I immediately wanted to reread. So many ideas to grapple with.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I have a massive to-be-read list. I have books on my shelves I’ve been meaning to read for years, and a stack lent by friends months ago. But two books I preordered long ago just came into the bookstore (Time Is a Mother by Ocean Vuong and The Hurting Kind by Ada Limón), so everything else got bumped. That keeps happening, and I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I’ll never catch up. I remember having an existential crisis in elementary school, becoming deeply distressed when I realized I could never live long enough to read all the good books in my local library, let alone the world, considering new ones are published all the time. I still feel basically the same way.
Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?
I read one book per genre at a time, but several genres at once. It’s not uncommon for me to have one book each in fiction, memoir, poetry, essays or educational nonfiction going at the same time. If I can’t put one of them down, the rest get paused, but if they are equally compelling, I rotate. I sort of plan my reading in advance in the sense that I read book reviews, get recommendations from friends, follow local presses on social media and order those books that pique my interest from the library. But then I forget what I ordered and never know when I will make it to the front of the list, so I’m surprised by what random books are ready for me to pick up. I much prefer physical books but will compromise when traveling because it’s much easier to carry a Kindle than a huge stack of books. Ebooks were also a lifesaver for both my son and I when libraries were closed at the beginning of the pandemic. I also realized that if I read an academic/informational digital book, I can highlight passages and export them to a document without having to take notes. Much easier than taking handwritten notes. I realize it’s not as effectively cemented in the neurological circuits when notes aren’t written by hand, but I’m not taking any tests so I can be lazy if I want.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I’m very interested in trying a golden shovel. I’d also like to experiment with a form called the fox’s gambit, invented by torrin a. greathouse and Julian Randall.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
On a cold day, I like to be in front of a big window at a café or library that lets in the precious winter light but not the frigid air. On a warm day, I like to be cocooned in a hammock under a canopy of green leaves, preferably where I can see and hear and smell a body of water.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
We just enjoyed walking all around for hours each day, getting a feel for different neighborhoods. Stopping to get coffee and a snack, pausing for my son to play on playgrounds, having a picnic. I wish I could remember the names of any of the places, but it’s more of a pleasant blur except the iconic Brooklyn Bridge and Prospect Park.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate survival,
and what I call freedom you call revenge.
For every day you don’t possess me is as good
as a breath where I inhale all the oxygen meant
for my precious lungs, not ceding any of it to you.
My son says Brooklyn because that’s where he discovered the existence of saltwater taffy.