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: Eudemonic

December 7, 2016, 12:22 pm

In London still. I walked at night through Notting Hill with a friend, stopped for a rose-oil latte and kept walking. The circumstances of meeting this stranger woke me up to the fact that Poetry for Strangers could probably use pictures.

Sirius was working in a small grocery shop; near the cash register stood a bucket full of odd purple vegetables that looked like pale curled hands. What in the world –? Sirius explained: “These are radicchios grown in the dark to make them more tender. They do look like they’re from another world.”


The word he offered begins with EU, which got us onto the Brexit topic, and it means a feeling of bliss – of having all you need. I asked him about his experience with Brexit and his response was lovely: “How is apart ever better than together?”

The Stranger: Sirius

The Word: Eudemonic

The poem I wrote:

What kind of beast
have I become, singing
as I do into the coal
mines each night,
waking earlier each day
and curling backward
into the cave-wet dark?
I shed fur and teeth,
shredding evenings
into bits of white clay,
chalk-proof that I am
nothing but thin nights
filled with unlearning
muscles and loose-jaw
eudemonic ease: I am
a good animal, that is all.

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

The word: Future

November 30, 2016, 7:35 am

I write this poem from London, where I am visiting my vast extended family. I took my babies for a jacketed jaunt downtown – we rode a double-decker red bus several miles in the wrong direction. When we corrected course and were waiting again at a bus stop, we found ourselves sitting next to an officer of the law. I stuffed one of my business cards inside each child’s jacket pocket and instructed them if we ever were to get accidentally separated, that they locate a police officer, like this one, and present the card and say, “Help me find my mother!” The officer, Jason, was as kind as could be, and he participated in our conversation about safety. Then he and I spoke of recent events in both of our countries. As the bus arrived, we agreed that the conversation had been for both parties a “tonic.”

The Stranger: Jason

The Word: Future

The poem I wrote:

Our mother through the centuries
was animal first,
quick to defend
any of her pups
from our small
growled offenses.

She loved us best when we got
things wrong: one bad choice,
one ignorant jump-ship,
and this woman,

like a nation,

came roaring to our
aid, to our sorry pelts
to say that yes,

I still count you, and

Yes, you speak well
even though you are no
work of art,

and finally
Yes you have a future

even though you’ve added nothing
to the blue of the world—

Yes, you, hungriest one
who forgot to grow
the way I raised you.


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

The word: Relevant

November 23, 2016, 8:52 am

At a garden café, I met my friend Troy, with whom I am collaborating on a book that is due out this December. Its website: fearofthedeep.com. This week’s stranger works at the café; he let us have a table outside so we could enjoy the afternoon before winter became complete.

The Stranger: Andrew

The Word: Relevant

The poem I wrote:

Ask again, uncurl
inside my bones:
How will we go?

Shall I move us
toward mastery,
one cell at a time?

Shall we clutch
at loving this life
in a relevant way,
then sit and drink
beer with lunch?

What is our sourdough
daily worship? Can
you know? I know

we simmer like a town,
a small one: wooden
and easily burned.

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

The word: Bubble Wrap

November 16, 2016, 9:36 am

I could spend an hour writing about bubble wrap. It is so satisfying! While grocery shopping one morning with my kids, we ran into Amy, who rounded the corner in the frozen waffle section, wielding two sheets of bubble wrap. She offered both to us—sacred plastic gifts—and we accepted.

The Stranger: Amy

The Word: Bubble Wrap

The poem I wrote:

Let me be
as bubble wrap:
there is
in this conversation.

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

The word: Frenetic

November 9, 2016, 5:34 am

While visiting my family in Texas, we stopped one night at the iconic Amy’s Ice Cream Shop in downtown Austin, where the man behind the counter was tossing and catching scoops of ice cream like they were baseballs. His name, he said, was his mother’s gift; she named him for his dad who taught English and loved to write. This word grew into a good witchy poem, like “Ryba.”

The Stranger: Poet

The Word: Frenetic

The poem I wrote:

I have cleaned my life
of bedrooms
and beans—
said goodbye
to all frenetic things—
so now an empty sack,
this shriveled purse
without seeds;
there will be no
more rooting,
this marks the end
of my red. Some other
woman or ogre
will rise from this
unweeping soil:
Hear me, mother—
groaning, croning,
the cock at dawn.

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

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