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: Delight

February 1, 2017, 6:11 am

In a building that towers over my city, my person and I went to an event for a theater we support. Dan was serving wine, and we learned that he had volunteered for this theater for 21 years. We sat talking, surrounded by windows filled with the night-lit city, feeling like we could make a difference. As I composed this poem I was thinking about the act of raising a boy in a country dominated by grown men using not-quite grown-up antics—men who were once, presumably, some woman’s sweet boys.

The Stranger: Dan

The Word: Delight

The poem I wrote:

I tell you, the fact

Of boy

their bottoms wrapped
in paper

like something
from the market.


heavy like blocks
of a bridge.

(a scramble of boys,
each insisting
he is no baby)

Boys tossing
boys grabbing

boys making laws

boys playing

heavy boys grow hair
and depart
dampening their towelly

Our green and blue
world filled
to its yellow top with all these


asking if one
is a lot and

women say



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

The word: Extravagant

January 25, 2017, 6:25 am

This week I walked inside Idaho’s state capitol building. My predominant feeling was anger and a grudging warrior’s patience, but there was also a slight birdsong of curiosity: I wanted to witness an ordinary morning in the capitol building of my state who had elected for president this man who so hates women.

Mostly it was what you’d expect: committees on finance, presentations about why this school or that program needs funding for fiscal year 2018. Where I felt hope was in the basement: Boise State University had set up tables to show the work of different departments. I landed at the table of GIMM, the Gaming, Interactive Media and Mobile Technology program.

First they put goggles on me for my first virtual reality experience. Through the goggles, my hands turned skeletal and neon green and yellow, and I entered a land of gray blocks that I could pick up, throw, and knock over. Then the goggles came off and I faced Dean and Gabe, students in the program who, with no prior app-building experience, had taken large amounts of data and put it to practical use by building impressive tracking apps. These guys were kind, they were smart, they were excited about their work. As I listened to their possibilities and learned about their projects, I felt the antidote to the anxiety in the air: a progress, learning, a push forward into new territory.

The Strangers: Dean and Gabe

The Word: Extravagant

The poem I wrote:

Since I’ve fallen
out of study
I’ve come into
archipelagos; how
extravagant for
freedom to carry
the scent of salt.

Some days I wish
never to climb
again. Rather sit
among ten thousand
leaves believing

the williwaw
has come
for the last time

there is nothing left
to do except
stir honey
into each year.

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

The word: Electric

January 18, 2017, 11:20 am

On a snow day, my daughter bit two Legos apart and loosened her front tooth, initiating the end of her baby smile. We asked the people at our neighborhood market, where we walked for hot chocolate, to tell stories of their lost teeth. One person remembered yanking a tooth in the tie-it-to-the-door-technique. (“Only once!” he said. “Ouch!”) Someone else remembered tasting blood from a wiggly molar. (My daughter winced.) Near the door at a small round table, Gratia and her daughter were sharing a newspaper: Gratia read the news, her daughter the comics. They offered their tooth stories. When I asked for a word, they mused. “Electric toothbrush?” her daughter suggested.

The Stranger: Gratia

The Word: Electric

The poem I wrote:

I wish to be made
of purest distillation

glass-bottled for travel,
not caught in fixed

like a tooth. Matriarchally
I have taken my place
in line,

How long I’ve lived
on the periphery of things—

except there
in the electric center,

where gifts
as to a vessel receiving

not diapers?
my child asked

after listening
to the story of
gold and frankincense and myrrh,

then shifting like a star
at the insensitivity
of kings.


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

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.

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