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: Heartless | Ice Cream

March 7, 2018, 10:17 pm

I was invited by my friend Karen to visit two of her 7th grade classes to talk about poetry. As part of our discussion, we brainstormed words, wrote poems, and read a few aloud. Each class voted on a word to inspire this week’s poem. Among the non-winning-but-worthy words: flex-tape, tide-pod, basketball, homework.

The Stranger: Fairmont Jr. High 7th grade Accelerated English

The Word: Class 1: Ice cream | Class 2: Heartless

The poem I wrote:

In a tower it is easy
to be heartless
because the world
below is. Still
there are baskets
of slapping fish tails
and people trading coins.
Ruts dug deep into
old earth. Somewhere
a baby squalls. Here
are fortune tellers,
ice cream stalls, hiding
places enough to do
the right thing but
keep the heart
from bleeding—
and even a secret
window to hurl out a wish
and watch it rise
into the sky.

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

The word: Cognizant

February 28, 2018, 6:57 am

Bogus Basin in the snow. My mother-in-law was holding my skis while I went to the bathroom, and I returned and saw her leaving the building with my children. Only then did I realize that my skis were nowhere to be seen. I hobbled into the lodge in my ski boots.

“What are you looking for?” asked Ken, a gentleman who worked at the rental counter.

I explained, “My mother-in-law was holding my skis and I don’t know where they are.”

“Lemme get this straight,” said Ken slowly. “Did you lose your mother-in-law or did you lose your skis? If mother-in-law you’d better put a bell around her neck.”

“No, no, no—my skis, my skis!”

Once I located both skis and family, I went back inside to ask Ken for a word. When I asked if he’d like me to email him the poem, Ken gestured at my phone in indignation. “Look at me! I’m 86. Think I have one of those?”

The Stranger: Ken

The Word: Cognizant

The poem I wrote:

You could say
it is a sin
to move
a rock

The risk
risks the fact
of your undertow

Here rocks
seed blue

sink wishes
into deep earth
where rocks belong

What if all rocks
are cognizant,
better not

the light
as is and do
not affront the earth.


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

The word: Lymph

February 21, 2018, 6:41 am

I met Glenda at a party, and of course I asked about her name. It is a great name, and it was fun to talk with her. She is a massage therapist who specializes in lymphatic and colon health. I asked her what single thing we could do for colon health. Her answer: “No microwaves.”

The Stranger: Glenda

The Word: Lymph

The poem I wrote:

Like any water, returning
to the stream. An ancient
transporter. An entire
system, lymph, its uses
like mine: visionary.
To see the cliff’s edge.

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

The word: Starmony

February 14, 2018, 6:08 am

Happy Valentine’s Day, dear generous readers of Poetry for Strangers! Here’s Poem #241.

Date night, Red Feather. Our server said in the sweetest voice, “My name is Bodie and I will take great care of you.” “I am absolutely certain you will,” I said. “I heart you, sister!” he sang out as he left our table. When I asked for a word, he said: “Illusion, if you want a real word. Starmony if you will accept a made-up one.”

The Stranger: Bodie

The Word: Starmony

The poem I wrote:

She said, I feel left out. She said, if only
I had a necklace with one other girl,
a silver heart broken on purpose
down the middle, the illusion that
be   st   frie  nds must belong
in a pairing, like cheese and wine,
a christening into starmony that lasts;
an armor to wear to school and not
be alone, a sort of badge of love. Men, they
race arms. Children, these girls, see how.

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

The word: Inspiration

February 7, 2018, 6:40 am

I met Jia at the bottom of a hill while our kids were sledding. They sledded down a steep hill for over an hour, which seemed a long time to be cold—but they could have gone much longer. Jia had recently come home from Bangkok where she taught middle school. When I asked her what in Thailand left the biggest impression, she said, “The time-sense. There is just a different way of thinking about time.”

The Stranger: Jia

The Word: Inspiration

The poem I wrote:

Once upon a time
abundant with grass
and giants and sun
she said,

I am afraid
of responsibility
over any life
but mine.

Still you climbed:
no plan, no coin—
and only a bean
in your hand.

Her job absolute
value, her job
inspiration, her
job to breathe.

Forgive her.
It is always
open season
on mothers.

Do not eat the cow,
bless the cow,
the milk.


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

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