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: Appaloosa

February 15, 2017, 10:42 am

I adored meeting Keats. It was at Story Story Night, which left the whole audience feeling hopeful and hungry to add to the green of the world. Keats was with her mother, a friend of mine; I learned that she is studying marine biology and just had her first daughter.

The Stranger: Keats

The Word: Appaloosa

The poem I wrote:

It is afternoon when things
can be made and done, and
clothes drip like moss

about the furniture.
The baby is a fat
beautiful fish heavy

in the bed. At least
as alive as the birds.
Outside the window

there is nothing for us,
inside a room of animals.
This one (we made all this,

it came from our ocean)
an appaloosa, impossible
to keep from running.

 

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



The word: Fantasy

February 8, 2017, 9:38 am

My friend Cathy and I sat talking politics at a pub Friday night, on our way to write postcards to our state representatives. Next to us sat a quiet man wearing a wool tartan cap. Toward the end of our conversation, he said, “I’ve been trying to figure out which side of the fence you two are on.”

Cathy guffawed. “Really?”

We learned that this man, Robert, was in town visiting his daughter who works at the pub. We also learned that he owns a dairy business in California and that he stands opposite us in terms of the fence. This led to the sort of lucid conversation about politics that leaves with nobody feeling moved philosophically, but each of us feeling empathy and interest in the other.

Cathy asked if this man’s daughter shared his political opinions.

“I think so,” he said.

At that moment, Robert’s daughter walked over to squeeze her dad on the shoulder. “Which side of the fence are you on?” Cathy asked her.

The daughter’s response: “I’m not talking about THAT!”

The Stranger: Robert

The Word: Fantasy

The poem I wrote:

Home is a trap
just as anger
is a sleeve

turned
inside out
for effect.

Brain too
is a sleeve
and I never know
how you
live in yours.

Fantasy
is the broken
shell of a
hermit crab and

fear is a beast
that rattles
nights

and beast is
a good
excuse. Baby,

what I mean
to tell you
is how awful
I feel
that my heart
is not as open
as yours.

 

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



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.

Heads

heavy like blocks
of a bridge.

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

Boys tossing
balls
boys grabbing
balls

boys making laws

boys playing
delight

heavy boys grow hair
and depart
dampening their towelly
Rs

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

boys

asking if one
is a lot and

women say

Yes

 

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
and

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
position

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

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

except there
in the electric center,

where gifts
descend
as to a vessel receiving
water.

Why
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.



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