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: Lymph

February 21, 2018, 6:41 am

I met Glenda at a party, and of course I asked about her name. It is a great name, and it was fun to talk with her. She is a massage therapist who specializes in lymphatic and colon health. I asked her what single thing we could do for colon health. Her answer: “No microwaves.”

The Stranger: Glenda

The Word: Lymph

The poem I wrote:

Like any water, returning
to the stream. An ancient
transporter. An entire
system, lymph, its uses
like mine: visionary.
To see the cliff’s edge.

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

The word: Starmony

February 14, 2018, 6:08 am

Happy Valentine’s Day, dear generous readers of Poetry for Strangers! Here’s Poem #241.

Date night, Red Feather. Our server said in the sweetest voice, “My name is Bodie and I will take great care of you.” “I am absolutely certain you will,” I said. “I heart you, sister!” he sang out as he left our table. When I asked for a word, he said: “Illusion, if you want a real word. Starmony if you will accept a made-up one.”

The Stranger: Bodie

The Word: Starmony

The poem I wrote:

She said, I feel left out. She said, if only
I had a necklace with one other girl,
a silver heart broken on purpose
down the middle, the illusion that
be   st   frie  nds must belong
in a pairing, like cheese and wine,
a christening into starmony that lasts;
an armor to wear to school and not
be alone, a sort of badge of love. Men, they
race arms. Children, these girls, see how.

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

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.

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