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: Ambition

November 2, 2016, 6:48 am

Boise finished digging into itself for an urban overhaul, an awesome subterranean bus terminal in the heart of downtown. I went down to visit it one day after lunch. Billy, who works as a director for Valley Ride, was standing on one of the busiest streets, waiting to greet some of the bus operators.

The Stranger: Billy

The Word: Ambition

The poem I wrote:

The end is clear
in any story: green
potted joy with
upward shoots
like fireworks.
We stand here,
apart. Ambition
is a way of asking
how do you get there
again and again.

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

The word: Shame

October 26, 2016, 6:05 am

I met this stranger in the locker room after my daughter’s swim lesson. My two-and-a-half-year-old son approached her and complimented her on everything from her swimsuit to her socks. She accepted each of his compliments with grace. This stranger works as a psychotherapist, and she told me she is writing a dissertation on shame.

The impetus for this poem came from a situation in our house in which the Halloween decoration (a swan squash) has been Galatea-ed by our son, who carries it around and introduces it to people as “my baby, Nightmare Moon.”

The Stranger: Pam

The Word: Shame

The poem I wrote:

This small man
made of springs
fell in green
adoptive love
with a long-necked
squash, just like
a tape dispenser
falling in love
with a snail.

There are women
who won’t let
their sons do this.
This fathering.
No doting on things
they can hold,
whose necks
they can keep
protected. That
doll-less majority
who turn heads
into balls
and slam hard.

We are in the left
of every sentence.
How far from shame
such love falls.

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

The word: Space

October 19, 2016, 7:19 am

I met this stranger at an event a few weeks back, then we met again last week. In the past year she had left fulltime work and was relishing the abundance of space in her days.

The Stranger: Leah

The Word: Space

The poem I wrote:

In October, drafts blow
through me like wind in a cave.

Given space,
we grow each other sideways,
small channels cut
as if by water.

To be a you is to be a great disruptor.

I open you
like a geode to see what inside
is worth keeping safe.

How afterward
nothing fits cleanly again.


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

The word: Starlight

October 12, 2016, 7:46 am

I take my daughter out of school some Thursday afternoons to look at art. We usually go for pastries too. This week we admired the work of Meredith, maker of chandeliers at Chandi. I loved the giant size of the chandeliers. My daughter loved the bins and bins of crystalline beads. This poem, once again, has beans at its heart.

On another note, three of my poems are published in the German magazine Signaturen, translated by the brilliant Anna Ospelt. Here is the link.

The Stranger: Meredith

The Word: Starlight

The poem I wrote:

I put God
in my mouth
to have the
taste, the genes.
Sweetish, full
of water
and something
else, unformed,
still too green.
We are pinked
in starlight,
heaven rising
around us.

Spit me out, said God.

In my hand, a bean.

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

The word(s): Carpe Diem

October 5, 2016, 6:14 am

Five friends and I went glamping at Conestoga Ranch in Utah—an agreeable activity that, because it includes hot water and pillows, feels more like hoteling than camping. But unlike hoteling, the walls of our room were made of canvas; this particular cold weekend, we spent a great deal of time in the warm restaurant where Inge worked. This poem fused together Inge’s word and the seed idea of a poem I wrote years ago about Don Quixote.

The Stranger: Inge

The Word(s): Carpe Diem

The poem I wrote:

When I used to chase windmills
my wish was to rub against
an ending. Such a wish
mutates; we pass it along
like runners on a quest.

Carpe diem! we howl
at the dawn, mortaling
ourselves to be forever
mistaking love for an ordinary

tremor, life for death,
windmills for everything they are not.

I am drunk once more
with such wild chasing
of things that change.

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