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: Enforcer

April 11, 2018, 11:18 am

We had friends over for dinner on Easter and they invited their friends, Laura and Alex, and we all had a blast. One common thread was that we all have young children—and so we got into a discussion about who, in each couple, acts as “The Enforcer.” (I was not nominated).

The Strangers: Laura & Alex

The Word: Enforcer

The poem I wrote:

The moon is gone again and it forgot
to tell us how the years would eclipse
us so easily. And who among us has not
hoarded and failed, bit and commanded,
wasted our love? The young say, pretend.
Pretend to be both dragon and enforcer.
They take a bowl, fill to meniscus with
made-up water, soak our cardboard hearts.

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

The word: Ephemeral

April 4, 2018, 9:59 am

I heard Ruth, a former Waldorf teacher, give a talk about education, and I went up afterward to meet her. She carries stories from educating her sons in a worldly and wise fashion, and she now teaches eurythmy, an expressive movement art.

The Stranger: Ruth

The Word: Ephemeral

The poem I wrote:

My first loves
are my creations,
written and alive;
they never stop
growing even
in winter,
and with ease
I fall second
to your or anyone’s

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

The word: Quixotic

March 28, 2018, 11:13 am

Through my sister-in-law, I met Alanna, one of the most organized, dedicated readers I have ever met. We had a fun conversation and I learned that she was reading several histories of the Vikings.

The Stranger: Alanna

The Word: Quixotic

The poem I wrote:

Each year on the boat
reconstructs us: we are just
wooden planks but each year
they fit less evenly. We wish
for easy joining, one of many
quixotic wishes that men
on boats make. We name
landmarks as we meet them,
and each year we forget further
the name of our home. But
skol! One day we’ll land,
build fixed shelters and tell
all the young ones that we
have been enchanted, too.

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

The word: Curiouser

March 21, 2018, 8:02 pm

I moved to Boise in stages, and the first stage happened in the summer of 2007. I was mid-PhD and had fallen in love and wanted to spend the summer with the person I loved. That summer, my first order of business was to find people who liked to talk about literature. I signed up for a Boise State course called “Preparing for The Tempest”: we spent an intense, delicious week learning what went on behind the scenes of an Idaho Shakespeare Festival performance. In the 2007 run of “The Tempest”—and I have lived in Boise long enough to see a second run of it, completely different—but in this run, Ariel was played by the actress Sara Bruner, and seeing her prepare for the role was my favorite part. For she brought into the role of the sprite so many halves: she was half-human, half-air; half-man, half-woman; half devoted child to Prospero, half on-the-clock-employee, ready to retire; the only whole was that she kept completely, wholly in motion the entire time. You could half-believe that she could fly. In the years since Ariel, she has moved to Oregon, but I saw her this month when she was home for a visit.

The Stranger: Sara

The Word: Curiouser

The poem I wrote:

We rode horses. It was something we did on weekends, just out
of town. Once we drove home in a rainstorm and passed under
a bridge and on the other side of the bridge, the rain disappeared.
There was magic. At times there were miniature ponies living in
the backyard. We didn’t have everything but we had enough. It
was one of those nights when you asked what I did as a child and
I could not answer; now the answers come galloping back. We put
on magic shows. We made grave rubbings. We picked blackberries.
We told stories. We collected slugs. We dressed up lizards in Barbie
clothes. We climbed up and down trees and christened ourselves
with botanical names. We held funerals for fish. We grew every day
curiouser. We crawled around the lake each time it lowered and we
emerged smelling like salt and dead things. We learned what we set
out to learn. We ran as far and as fast as we could. We built villages
out of cardboard box. We slept with dogs at our feet. We imagined
ourselves growing up and having children and doing all the same
things. Most days we swam. We were safe and we knew it. We went
on road trips and only once got to sleep in the backseat, unbelted,
as we drove into New Mexico as the sun rose. We had one friend
who claimed her middle name was Cookie and who had only one
pierced ear. Once we got stuck at the top of a magnolia tree. Often
we went to the beach. Once someone handed us a fishing pole and
we caught on accident a baby shark. We played bingo with retirees
and sometimes we won. We carried books under our arms. We rode
scooters. We shot stars. We loved. We watched hot air balloons rise.
We rode horses.

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

The word: Starlit

March 14, 2018, 7:33 am

Mornings at downtown Java, Judea possesses energy and effervescence—an overall sense of brightness—and so it felt fitting that when I asked for a word, the one I received was starlit.

The Stranger: Judea

The Word: Starlit

The poem I wrote:

Change the light and everything
changes. We are different
starlit. The earth-bird takes flight.

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

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