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: Synapse

July 12, 2017, 7:39 am

I met Kevin on an elevator in the Harvard Science Center—he was going to work, and I was going for a ride with my babies who love pressing buttons. We got off at his floor and talked for a spell about homeschool, writing, intersections of connections.

The Stranger: Kevin

The Word: Synapse

The poem I wrote:

One in our house
learned to sew the day
before he died.
She measures thread
and somewhere
beneath the table lie
the abhorred shears.
Threads tangle; one
bright one breaks. He is not
coming back, not even
if I wish him. Tonight
one more woman
picks up the needle,
a simple mending, nothing
to break but thread.
His doctors tried.
Still it is true
that every system
breaks once.
Her fabric fills
with stitches, the world
with moths, rain and mulch
he cannot smell.
Across the synapse,
a message, electric and alive:
Put me back together.


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

The word: Deliciousness

July 5, 2017, 6:49 am

When I arrived in Boston for summer teaching, my babies bolted toward the luggage belt and a kind woman named Linda reached them before I did and cautioned them not to touch it (sincere thank you, all village parents!) Two days later I saw Linda again at the grocery store: a total and delicious surprise.

The Stranger: Linda

The Word: Deliciousness

The poem I wrote:

of wet leaves,
and the rain
almost here.
I shall be
the tree who
carries her roots
there is
enough water.


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

The word: Catalyst

June 28, 2017, 7:14 am

Big news: My book about my awesome grandfather is available; his life is an incredible story and I loved getting to be his biographer. I hope you take a look.

And onto the poem…

I met Adrienne and Lee in a Walla Walla wine tasting room. I was with my person—everyone was with their person. It was couples everywhere, all of us crashing each other’s dates, and it felt good when we collectively accepted the fact and began to talk. Adrienne and Lee were great fun. They told us stories about camping with their kids—how their son would hop out at a campground with his walkie talkie and announce, “I’m gonna go make some friends!”

For this stranger-poem, I returned to an earlier idea (Dunyazad, the sister under the bed and catalyst of stories in 1001 Nights, which I wrote about in my poem for Monica on the word “aroma”).

The Strangers: Adrienne + Lee

The Word: Catalyst

The poem I wrote:

Being trapped
beneath their mattress
is like being forced underwater
beneath a boat.

You lose

your innocence that way. You become
the older sister even though she

is the one above, getting drilled
into by His Lusty Highness.
We both arrived here virgins and I still am.

If he decides to kill her,

he will drill into me next.
If I do my job well, then my sister
will keep me
alive in turn. Her life an epic
and I only the catalyst:

a child in want of a bedtime story.

It is a strange sort of magic, her being master
of all the endings: kings and camels
and fish that speak
in prophecies before being


My sister’s stories are one more way
she is leaving me behind. Once upon a time
I was known as the cleverer sister—
but everyone knows that

she is brave and I am better at hiding.


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

The word: Transient

June 21, 2017, 11:10 am

I met Dan at this spring’s Idaho Writers Guild Conference. He had come to Boise to speak about publicity for writers, based on his experience running his own book promotion company, Smith Publicity, in Philadelphia.

The Stranger: Dan

The Word: Transient

The poem I wrote:

If you were anyone
other than you

I would unwing
your art

from your arms,
leave you leafless,

as an infant,

and trembling.

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

The word: Aplomb

June 14, 2017, 12:23 pm

Ballet Idaho puts on superb dance performances, the kind where the world on-stage eclipses everything else because of how wholly the dancers inhabit their roles. I ran into Andrew, one of their principal dancers, when I was at a café getting ready for class. We chatted about the making of art and the odd side-hustles so many creative people must embrace.

The Stranger: Andrew

The Word: Aplomb

The poem I wrote:

Whether the washing
of windows,

humility streaming

in the uneclipsed sun,
or the dance

and its searing
fairy tales,

with aplomb we try
not to fall

even if the world
seems all edges:

Let’s face it, work
is sexy and everything

roots down
in what we make

and with what
labor we love.

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

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ... 45,