Poetry for Strangers is about 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 single 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: Snow

September 20, 2017, 5:05 am

In the very early morning, Derrick was delivering croissants from Gaston’s Bakery to the café where my daughter and I sat, she making rubber band bracelets, I working on a piece of writing. He gave my girl the first chocolate croissant of the day.

The Stranger: Derrick

The Word: Snow

The poem I wrote:

You lie down, I cross you, and we raise our arms and legs, making a bowl. Hold us to fire and we will set. Glaze us turquoise with specks of brown. Now our sides are high, we are round-sculpted, and we can hold water. Time to let the children in. They play on us as if a skate park, skittering inside. A single nudge and we go to sea, for we are made of the stuff that floats. Will we hold our shape once they grow? How well sculpted are we and will we be shaped like a bowl forever, strong enough to hold snow without breaking, and ready to carry years, to last long enough? This is how parents are shaped. Round, set, glazed, and patient.

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

The word: Imperfect

September 13, 2017, 6:29 am

Always there are exciting strangers at galas. At this year’s Boise Contemporary Theater event, my date was my amazing sister-in-law, who generously bragged to our table about my recent book. The woman next to me, it turned out, was also a writer. We talked about a project of hers, a blog titled “Imprfect” (minus first “e”).

The Stranger: Gina

The Word: Imperfect

The poem I wrote:

“Dog Bride”

He marries us
three at a time,
a wife for each head,
each dog-face.

It started as a dare
but soon came clear
that the monster

wanted a wife,
a woman to slip
underground, to help guard
what the rest
of the world
cannot see—how to resist
such portals?

The second head growls
in its sleep. I thought
I might escape
but there is nothing here
to see, nothing

and the road away
slips just out
of our light.
The old bodying
of birth, love, and death
seems such a sweet
thing to remember.

If I could’ve wished
another time,
it would be to stay
imperfect, plotless
and unimpressive,

that way
no great story
would descend
to choose me.


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

The word: Change

September 6, 2017, 11:15 am

I love my neighborhood. On a walk to the market to have a coffee and make a list, I saw a really good dog, the kind of white and bluish-black herding animal that populates children’s books about farms. I scratched his head and met his owner—Jim—who pronounced the dog the “best damn dog I’ve ever had.” more »

The word: Tea

August 30, 2017, 10:36 am

Toni makes tea and is a community leader in teaching people about plant-based diets. I have eaten at her tea room, Shangri-La, many times. Her tea room is moving to a new location this fall, and when I called in search of my favorite tea, Toni agreed to meet me at the new location so I could replenish.

The Stranger: Toni

The Word: Tea

The poem I wrote:

Look down
at your roots,
your wet long
white roots.
Do not long
to be the woman
who begins
the story, the one
who bears fruit
and dies: she only
can come back
as memory
or witch.

Your job,
sweet petal,
is to be everything
else: hero and horse,
lake and ogre
beneath, tower and gold
at once. Ask wishes
of the moon. Do
the work that needs
to be done. Learn
to sew even if
a mother never
taught you.
Dry the best
leaves for tea.
Sew enough shirts
to unwing
your brothers
from the birds
they will become.
Feed the dog for it
can be a good friend.
Crow at night once
your newborn sleeps
at last.

This is your story,
woman. Yours,
mother. In this version
you get to live.

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

The word: Contentment

August 23, 2017, 8:19 pm

On my way back from a visit to Austin, I stopped in Colorado to visit a friend. There I met Mahani, originally from South Africa, who caters some of the most delicious vegan meals.

The Stranger: Mahani

The Word: Contentment

The poem I wrote:

There is a silver snake
dead on the road,
rippled as a dry
waterfall. There
is a bladed grasshopper
that flies. And here
a wooden house,
child-sized with
ancient curtains—
somebody or nobody
lived there once.

There are men glowing
in yellow shirts,
scraping asphalt;
soon a storm above
the mountains, and
a hundred wailing openmouthed
dogs. And over
there a child climbing a tree
dressed as a bunny—can
there be more?

I want to ask: do you lose
things in this world,
the objects so splendid
and alive, so full
of contentment, and
not to mention the boxes,
tables and pillowcases,
the streets, voices taking over—
all with such insistence.
How can you ever find
anything in here?

I hear them at night
making quiet noise,
remembering in the heat
the dying end
of childhood. There may
or may not have been
a penny falling.
Can you hear
how the black night
is green awake?

Hard table, glowing men,
dead snake, bladed
insects, bunny child,
wailing dogs: there is enough
for me in the world
of the living. I say no to the ghosts.
I draw a line, say, Here
is my world. How many times
I choose you. As for the rest,
please be all quiet and tended to.
I wish you every part of well.


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

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