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: Chapter

December 13, 2017, 1:16 pm

Alexi works at a coffee bar, and I was chatting with her while I waited in line. We both owned up to writing poems. Her love of poetry came from her mother, who gave her poetry books to read when she was a child. (My perfect grammar comes from my mother, but that is another story). Alexi said she was looking for a word to describe a turning point, a new chapter.

The Stranger: Alexi

The Word: Chapter

The poem I wrote:

We have a spell in our house
to cast off nightmares:
Nightmare, away!  Nightmare,
out the window!  They egress.
They cannot stay in the room. more »

The word: Crestfallen

December 6, 2017, 9:29 am

Cynthia and I bonded at the Whole Foods River Room while talking about books and beer, academic trajectories that took unexpected turns, and a former life in Texas. She gave me this word the same week my family lost our gentle, good, old dog.

The Stranger: Cynthia

The Word: Crestfallen

The poem I wrote:

Since you died I have had
dreams of snow

falling like tennis balls,
stacking up to the sky,

trapping us in, and for
some reason I hold

not a shovel but a camera.
Around me are hills

combed with white,
soft Labrador white.

Somewhere in it all
you are there, deserving.

Forgive me. I am just human
and not even great

at that. We do our business
inside, safe from

this beastly cold, at times
crestfallen, but often not.

I dream my way back,
wishing to give you a gift,

something evergreen,
something else.

I tried to take a picture
of the sun, and it worked.


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

The word: Peace

November 29, 2017, 6:10 am

It was hard to catch Azam to ask for a word, for she was deep in a quest with a teenager to find a book. Azam has worked at the public library for twenty years: when I first saw her, she was putting on a puppet show for a hundred spellbound children. This week the library is papered with signs announcing her retirement party. I asked her about it and she replied: “It’s been twenty years of fun.”

The Stranger: Azam

The Word: Peace

The poem I wrote:

It was the wrong first kiss and I am remembering this now, for no reason, or for the reason that I have had so many birthdays and that they, my young, will soon be kissed by others than me: He had given me a ring. We were being driven somewhere by one of our parents. We were thirteen and I was hoping for a kiss. If on the lips, it would be the first. He held my hand in the car. This was close, but not a first. The trees whirled past the windows, sprawling in peace, like adults. When we were dropped off, his father—huge, red, like a sausage—swooped in and wished me happy birthday. He kissed me like an uncle on the lips, and that was it: he had done what I had long wanted his son to do, and what his son, in the end, would not do. Other kisses came later and in truth, I cannot remember them all. Driven home, being dropped off home, being disappointed—always the passive verb, the passive verb that is a teenager. That night I saw it did not matter who kissed and who did not kiss. That either way the night could not hurt me, for all I had really wanted for my birthday was a story.    

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

The word: Age

November 22, 2017, 5:53 am

I led a writing workshop at Willow Park Senior Living to a fabulous group of writers. We wrote about the eras—the ages—in our lives. It took place just before Thanksgiving, so I left thinking about which details we remember, how thankful we as writers must be for them.

The Strangers: Willow Park Writers

The Word: Age

The poem I wrote:

Yours the frog.
Yours the stereo.
Yours the frozen

cabin or the empty
room. But the whole
life is ours, its river-bends,

its fortunate shallows, even
its family of beasts
and branches.

Nobody escapes
without a story to tell.

If we are lucky,
age will happen
to us. If we are lucky,

these stories
will mark us,
they will say,

“Mine. Mine.
I need you
to tell me.”

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

The word: Happiness

November 15, 2017, 6:04 am

At swim lessons, my kids went to their coaches and I sat in the hot tub. There I met Carolyn, former dietician who now works as a professor and researcher on health and aging. We had a great conversation before it got too hot to sit and we both got out.

The Stranger: Carolyn

The Word: Happiness

The poem I wrote:

You’re beautiful,
he wrote,
and she waited.
She waited first
to get older—
waited for him to shed
the dirty jeans
he always wore.
She waited for a reason
to leave town, for
the coral nipples
in his poems to darken,
for her own voice
to grow gentle and low.
She waited
until she stopped
dreaming about him,
waited for pets,
cars, children,
broken bones,
every happiness
to meet her first.
She waited until
the water around her
ran clear. When
she had all grown up
at last she wrote
back to him,
I’ve waited for you.
And she waited.

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

1 ... 5, 6, 7, 8,