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: Inspiration

February 7, 2018, 6:40 am

I met Jia at the bottom of a hill while our kids were sledding. They sledded down a steep hill for over an hour, which seemed a long time to be cold—but they could have gone much longer. Jia had recently come home from Bangkok where she taught middle school. When I asked her what in Thailand left the biggest impression, she said, “The time-sense. There is just a different way of thinking about time.”

The Stranger: Jia

The Word: Inspiration

The poem I wrote:

Once upon a time
abundant with grass
and giants and sun
she said,

I am afraid
of responsibility
over any life
but mine.

Still you climbed:
no plan, no coin—
and only a bean
in your hand.

Her job absolute
value, her job
inspiration, her
job to breathe.

Forgive her.
It is always
open season
on mothers.

Do not eat the cow,
bless the cow,
the milk.


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

The word: Knitting

January 31, 2018, 5:00 pm

In a shop that sells yarn, two girls sat at a table in a high-windowed back room, knitting two baby blankets and a headband. “They want to be pioneer women,” Lynda, the owner, told me. “I tell them, good for you—but still you need to work on your math.” Flecks of snow marked the sky. When we left the shop, Lynda and another woman had joined the knitting girls, and the image impressed itself on me: two women, two girls, making things with their hands.

The Stranger: Lynda

The Word: Knitting

The poem I wrote:

Picture you in the snow
on a Tuesday afternoon
darkening. A time boding
sadness or comfort,
depending on who you
are with and what you are
making. Here, the world
is complete. Knitting the future
from scraps of memory,
yarn by yarn, wish by wish.

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

The word: Contracts

January 24, 2018, 10:51 am

I met Val when I came home to Idaho in January. A writer for over a decade, she has chosen this year to begin something new: law school. She told me that she enjoys it, for “law is the only field where knowledge is communicated entirely in stories.”

The Stranger: Val

The Word: Contracts

The poem I wrote:

Above the entrance
to the library
two geese alight
broadcasting their
as-I-see-its. One flies off,

flapping its body
like hauling
a basket of bread;
what inglorious adults,
and they are such clumsy fliers.

I walk straight beneath,
as I every day do:
contracts we make
with self and other
beasts, as in marriage,

when we do what we can
but still ask who failed.
A heavy coupling, thin
efforts at flight, and waiting
for the other to depart first.


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

The word: Fret

January 17, 2018, 4:18 pm

We got a public library card our first week in Hawaii; that’s how we roll. At the library, we saw a poster for a traditional Hawaiian guitarist coming to play the day after Christmas. We went. My baby guy, now three, brought his new Christmas ukulele and played it quietly in the children’s section, while the other grownups and I listened to Ian play. In between songs, he taught us what to listen for, explaining the process of his composition.

The Stranger: Ian

The Word: Fret

The poem I wrote:

“Other animals live in a world of undivided reality.” – Masanobu Fukuoka

There is a fret coming in
from the sea, saturnine
and difficult

to see through: it is
a place to fix the mind
to make the noise

we need to stay unworn
away, perfectly keyed

not to worry: for we
are still bright

blooms, unvanished
into the machinery.
Stay your hands

where they are. Something
green is being made.


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

The word: Voyage

January 10, 2018, 8:35 am

On the Big Island, we did a Kona coffee tour: it was a small grower, and we were invited to pull the ripe red berries off the trees and taste them, noticing how all coffee possibilities come from this simple, sweet fruit. Our tour-guide, Yasmina, is formerly a submarine captain; upon learning this fact, I held my breath. When I asked her about the transition to working on land, she said, “If there’s an emergency here, I can leave work. Not so under the ocean.” When I asked for a word, she offered three: Voyage – Transition – Journey. She added: “To me they’re all the same thing.”

The Stranger: Yasmina

The Word: Voyage

The poem I wrote:

Hanging by a thread. How many
I have known who wished

for such delivery, when the body
fails but they are still

breathing. Their answer each time
I asked, how are you?

And nobody ever said the voyage
between calm and calm

is calm.


In this house,
it is her seventh birthday and she

is distracted by a piñata
in her mouth, dangling dead, still

part of her dental-scape.
It’s just tissue, my sister-doctor says.

Use scissors.
How she wishes to go to sleep

and wake delivered.
How in times of pain, like her birth,

I wished my mother
could rescue me from the deadening

roots of my body.


How solitary to be each
our own species. I cannot rescue her

forever but this is so easy.
That night, my hands washed twice,

I creep into her room
and kneel. I find the tooth and slowly

twist, slowly
slowly until it loosens its hold

and strands itself
on the continent of my hand.


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

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