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: Mirror

January 11, 2017, 8:10 am

My two-year-old son and I took forty-five minutes to stop for coffee and pie. Astonishingly, he likes the taste of coffee, so I give him tiny sips. A woman sitting across from us looked at my phone and started to laugh. I always have a sticker on my phone-cum-wallet that reads: “IS IT NECESSARY?” This led to a conversation and the gift of a word. When this poem emerged, I thought at first it was about the dog, but soon I saw that it wasn’t: rather, it’s about choosing to do something we don’t wish to do so that our kids’ lives will be better.

The Stranger: Ursula

The Word: Mirror

The poem I wrote:

What lies under water
is not what they think.
Can it be true, the mother-
mirror reflected wrong,
that she isn’t at heart
a hero? When the old dog
took a freezing swim,
and the baby yelled,
“I have a question, Woody.
Is you all right?” the current
through my mind melted
in malice: he’s old enough.
It’s bloody cold. Let the dog
drown. But what they see
is their mother unwinding
her yellow scarf, taking off
her coat, stepping down
the bank to catch the dog
by the neck. Safe.
They remember a hero
wading into the cold,
a reflection as icy
as a queen’s, the trap
of She did it, so must I.

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

The word: Adventure

January 4, 2017, 6:59 am

My crew and I got stranded in an airport. Our first flight flew late, while our connecting flight left on time. I thought it was so cozy, being stuck in transit with my family of four! My daughter, on the other hand, was stricken. We were going home and we had plans. She didn’t want to change them. Next to us sat a couple who looked well-traveled. They were facing the airplanes out the huge window and talking to one another. Let’s ask them, I said to my girl, if they’ve ever had times when travel didn’t go as planned. Their answer: “Always!”

The Strangers: Susan and Jim

The Word: Adventure

The poem I wrote:

We’ve reached the Age
when us becomes them
and the versus drops
off to sleep.
Through our weapons
we master beasts—
metal, fear. Our wisest
wishes came to life while we
were still in our pajamas.
One promise explodes
under the sun, another
pools away in the rich
soil of interrupted sleep.
A child blows a dandelion,
says: Wishes you’ve used
before never work.
Love, things didn’t unravel
as we had planned.
We stand in the grass
weaponless. Yet
what I overlooked
was the adventure—
the mazish joy
in having everything
work out so well
even against our efforts. 

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

The word: Cackle

December 28, 2016, 6:10 am

On Christmas eve, after my nearly 6-year old daughter had swiftly disproven Santa by explaining that nobody lives that far beyond age 100, my husband’s side of our big wonderful family had dinner at a cozy lodge restaurant in the snowiest part of Northern California. Santa visited our table; my daughter narrowed her eyes but accepted his gift of a coin. I made a mental note to tell her how, in an ideal version of the holidays, we all get to play each other’s Santa—just by being kind, generous, jolly sorts of givers. Then I saw this phenomenon in action when my toddler son and I came back from the bathroom and passed a table full of merriment: a dozen people wearing paper crowns and holding Christmas crackers. They gave my son a fake mustache. They gave me the word “cackle.”

The Strangers: Kirsten & her party

The Word: Cackle

The poem I wrote:

I am a queen,
my son says.
He says I am
his fox. I say nightly
to the queen,
Thank you
for letting me be
your fox.
We cackle together
because this
is the truth
nobody knows. 

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

The word: Friendship

December 21, 2016, 5:27 am

When you are in London, it is quite easy to get to Paris, so my person and I spent a night there. We stayed the night in a tiny apartment that was under 250 square feet. While walking in the morning we were drawn into a beautiful shop called Boby la Plante—a pun on Boby Lapointe. What drew us was a wall of bright magnetic pots coddling succulents. We bought three and I asked the owner for a word.

The Stranger: Smain

The Word: Friendship

The poem I wrote:

I take her into winter
so I can talk to her;
we are two vessels
in the snow, courting
a transfer of contents.
She is old enough now
to scale back the legend
of her parents, to bleed
out our instructions,
choosing with care
her leeches. We stand
on the berm, whitened
both. Here is my best try.
My words, sweet one,
can you hold them.
My friendship, an attempt.
All the while
I am holding her hand
and leading her
into a frozen pond,
all the while
talking, talking.

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

The word: Spry

December 14, 2016, 9:45 am

I was riding the London Tube and gasped when I saw a Boise Bicycle Project patch on a fellow passenger’s backpack. I got up to ask. The man had lived in Boise for years, not a mile from where I live. The encounter drove home the message I’ve always believed about my Poetry for Strangers Project – that making friends with strangers expands one’s home.

The Stranger: Curtin

The Word: Spry

The poem I wrote:

It was a holiday
so everyone felt
spry. Somebody gave
a funny number.
A candle tipped.
There were no
parents and we
were all in love.
Peace came to us
in a dream; we all
threw peas at him.
I remember
that party. God,
we misbehaved.

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

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