Founded in 2013, Poetry for Strangers is a project dedicated to finding inspiration in the chance encounters of everyday life. PFS suggests that every person can be the muse of a poem. Each week I ask a stranger for a word and write a poem inspired by the word. I invite you to do the same. 

Share your poem on this week’s word!


The word: Spanky

August 8, 2018, 6:17 am

This was by far the hardest word. It came about when I was at a wine bar with my person and Dean was our server: he got my attention when he used a paper cup to pour my second glass of wine back into our bottle. He told us that he had two 18-year-old dachshunds who died seven days apart. Their names? Weinus and Spanky.

The Stranger: Dean

The Word: Spanky

The poem I wrote:

There has lived a man in my body before,
this small one, 1500 days old. Once he swam
like a fish inside my belly. Unimaginable
that I have no interior part named
for him, yet I bear other men’s names:
Fallopian tubes, Gartner’s ducts, hydatid
of Morgagni, Pouch of Douglas. Fixed
like flags by mapmakers unable to forgo
their hunger to own. I could name a part,
a secret on your skin, a spanky: it would be
just a word to mark some cells that turn daily
over, temporary as any point, as any ocean.

The Challenge: Do you have a poem in you on this word? Write one here.

The word: Home

August 1, 2018, 11:26 am

I studied at New College, Oxford, in the year 2000. My dad and I visited eighteen years later and the porters, Howard and Wayne, invited us in, so long as we didn’t disturb any of the concerts or other activities going on that summer Wednesday. We saw the old house where I lived at 65 Holywell. We saw the tall mysterious green Mound. My dad laughed when I couldn’t find the dining hall or chapel or, at first, the library. (“What did you spend your time doing?” he asked). When we said goodbye to the porters and thanked them for the warm welcome, they responded: “It’s always lovely to see our students come home.”

The Strangers: New College Porters

The Word: Home

The poem I wrote:

We grow up, we solidify into prose. We had a home, and then we left. There: the place of roses and the heaviness of walking on stone. There we first staked the thought like an arrow to the dirt: I want life to look like this. (And it has, it has.) There magic first played between our hands. There we read the wrong books. We sang in a choir badly. Did we play croquet and lose each time? Did we drink from that glass and did we break it? Perhaps we were, at first, lonely, before we intruded upon another century’s walls. I think we were not perfect. We lived too much in memory and in the future. The dirt of our origins, the years of stone. We wished for the play of magic between hands, believed we could learn it again. Outside in this cold night, there used to be rabbits. We can hear their soft feet like ballet dancers thudding the dry dirt. When we look back to see one, we are there instead: beautiful and forgiven.

The Challenge: Do you have a poem in you on this word? Write one here.

The word: Morning

July 25, 2018, 5:56 am

I met Edit in a town called Headington, just east of Oxford. I loved both her and her name. She stood straight, focused, and in all black, like a perfect punctuation mark. She took a long time to think of a word, because I know that in my asking she had summoned so many. She searched the rooftops out the window before saying, “Morning.” I asked with or without a “u”. “Without!” she said. Being up early brings the most astonishing energy, we agreed in the conversation that followed. Edit said: “Morning holds a key. But I miss it most of the time.”

The Stranger: Edit

The Word: Morning

The poem I wrote:

Facts be beautiful, animals be fierce. What you see before the world wakes: Two raccoons above the earth, hungry. A dog who rose before the canicular sun. Three animals so wild awake. The fight the dog initiated (In such a fight there are always too many teeth ––) Facts be beautiful: the dog was bigger. Animals be fierce: raccoons can brawl. The dog had one in its mouth before the second streaked from the gutter and tore at the dog’s back. The first raccoon climbed a tree as soon as the dog cried. The dog, sensing defeat, peed and moved on. There would be food at home. There was nothing left for night to do. And then, it was morning.

The Challenge: Do you have a poem in you on this word? Write one here.

The word: Lock keeper

July 18, 2018, 5:55 am

On our walk along the Thames River, my dad and I passed many locks and met many lock keepers. The lock keeper’s house stands pastorally at the edge of the lock, which is a set of gates that raise and lower the water, allowing boats to come upstream and keeping the river navigable. I asked one young lock keeper who was pulling a wooden bar to wrench open the water-gate, “How does one become a lock keeper?” He answered: “Perseverance. I’ve been doing this ten years and only eight months ago I moved into the lock house.”

The Stranger: Andy

The Word: Lock keeper

The poem I wrote:

There are things
only a lock keeper
knows of the two-
headed beast that is

river. River, half-
measured, half-
Here is my house,

my isolation, my friend
the current. I know
what secrets boats seek

upstream. I turn each
through. Quiet now,
for below the skim
another head is rising.

The Challenge: Do you have a poem in you on this word? Write one here.

The word: Sun

July 11, 2018, 9:04 am

Due to several mishaps at the airport, among them TSA thinking my foil-wrapped burrito was a dangerous object, I was empty-stomached and it was 12 minutes from gate closing. I had been warned. Near my gate, about fifty people waited in a line to buy bagels. Feeling sheepish but desperate, and in my desperation resolute, I proposed a bargain to the woman at the front of the line: “May I write you a poem in exchange for slipping in front of you?”

The Stranger: Ginger

The Word: Sun

The poem I wrote:

“Nature measures nothing. Nobody needs this much sunlight.”
–Jeanette Winterson

This is a humble house, we have bare feet and we eat
Our feet stuck in mud
but not forever. Beans
the sun. This house
has many rooms
and it is
This house is full
of women. Each woman
a room,
a gate
to the world, each
with a beanstalk
of inheritances. The
of life
curled complete inside each bare humble walled woman.


The Challenge: Do you have a poem in you on this word? Write one here.

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