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: Lock keeper

July 18, 2018, 5:55 am

On our walk along the Thames River, my dad and I passed many locks and met many lock keepers. The lock keeper’s house stands pastorally at the edge of the lock, which is a set of gates that raise and lower the water, allowing boats to come upstream and keeping the river navigable. I asked one young lock keeper who was pulling a wooden bar to wrench open the water-gate, “How does one become a lock keeper?” He answered: “Perseverance. I’ve been doing this ten years and only eight months ago I moved into the lock house.”

The Stranger: Andy

The Word: Lock keeper

The poem I wrote:

There are things
only a lock keeper
knows of the two-
headed beast that is

river. River, half-
measured, half-
Here is my house,

my isolation, my friend
the current. I know
what secrets boats seek

upstream. I turn each
through. Quiet now,
for below the skim
another head is rising.

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

The word: Sun

July 11, 2018, 9:04 am

Due to several mishaps at the airport, among them TSA thinking my foil-wrapped burrito was a dangerous object, I was empty-stomached and it was 12 minutes from gate closing. I had been warned. Near my gate, about fifty people waited in a line to buy bagels. Feeling sheepish but desperate, and in my desperation resolute, I proposed a bargain to the woman at the front of the line: “May I write you a poem in exchange for slipping in front of you?”

The Stranger: Ginger

The Word: Sun

The poem I wrote:

“Nature measures nothing. Nobody needs this much sunlight.”
–Jeanette Winterson

This is a humble house, we have bare feet and we eat
Our feet stuck in mud
but not forever. Beans
the sun. This house
has many rooms
and it is
This house is full
of women. Each woman
a room,
a gate
to the world, each
with a beanstalk
of inheritances. The
of life
curled complete inside each bare humble walled woman.


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

The word: Serendipitous

July 4, 2018, 8:44 am

Airports are by definition stale, unromantic. But the Portland airport does its best: it invites musicians to play in the terminal, and I paused to listen to Brian Cheney on the piano. I listened for a long time; his music was a spot of green on a barren landscape. After a few songs, a photographer approached me and said he hoped I didn’t mind that he had taken a photo of me because “seeing someone pay such close attention to music is almost as cool as hearing the music itself.” This led to a conversation about focus, attention, and an artist’s duty to moments: the triangle of an artist watching an artist watch an artist.

The Stranger: Corey

The Word: Serendipitous

The poem I wrote:


By the bus stop, music:            a man at the piano.

Some miracle of stained           glass kept the rain

from wetting him, the wind     from sounding,

the night from making              invisible his hands,

and so the music made             a canopy around us.

The music said, there is            nothing in the world,

but (it said) you. It said,           you are pure beast,

beautiful; it said, you have       come here tonight

(how serendipitous);                you, so far from being

a machine, are capable             of mercy; at last the

music said, as the night            came down, nothing

divides you from the sky          and nothing in the

world can protect you;             and that is all right.


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

The word: Grateful

May 30, 2018, 1:08 pm

This June I will hike the Thames River path with my dad. His ideal distance is 25 miles a day, mine is 5, so we compromised at 15. Because we will sleep and eat at pubs, we’ll carry only our clothes. I found a small backpack and have been hiking with it, but one of the straps came loose. Guy at REI fixed it promptly.

Which brings me to the hike…. PFS is going on 4-week hiatus while I hike the Thames and do some traveling after. No internet and no computer. Poems will start again the first week of July, and if you miss your weekly dose, you can peruse the archives at or read any of my other published poems that you might not have seen.

Thanks for reading! Onto this week’s stranger. xo Elisabeth

The Stranger: Guy

The Word: Grateful

The poem I wrote:

I have learned
from the ancients
about water, fire, wind.
The water upon which
the newborn
sails. The fire,
always kindled
but impossible
to pass on. The wind
to keep us
from arriving.
This learning is the soil
of my body.
Without it
I am just food
for the next cycle.
What is it all for
if not
our young. I will
be grateful to be
your Ancient one day.

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

The word: Fishing

May 23, 2018, 8:50 am

I took my 4-year-old fishing. We had anise-scented fish “marshmallows” for bait and a clamped down barb on our hook in case we caught anything. We were of split hopes: my son wished for a catch, while I wished for a day at the pond. We stayed an hour, caught no fish, and so my wish prevailed. This stranger, Suvad, was at the pond with his rod and looked as if he knew what he was doing. He had caught nothing, which surprised him, for he told us that in the fifteen years he’d been fishing, “I haven’t once bought fish at the store.”

The Stranger: Suvad

The Word: Fishing

The poem I wrote:

“On fishing for reasons”

Like any god
I give my whole
To one man, one woman.


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

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