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: Warmth

August 16, 2017, 7:16 am

The babies and I visited four playgrounds on a single Sunday before leaving Boston. At the final one we met Heidi, journalist and parent and wonderful conversationalist.

The Stranger: Heidi

The Word: Warmth

The poem I wrote:

This love of boats
did not come
from me. This
boy, my boy,
in a kayak
for hours. So many
I can’t believes
in my mind
making wake.
I see what he gets:
buoyancy, air,
and on his back
the sun, warmth
dissolving the space
between any two of us
like salt in water.
A way to protect
the invisible world.

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

The word: Balloon

August 9, 2017, 6:48 am

One Saturday we took the train to Boston Public Gardens to do the usual things: feed old bagels to the ducks, sit on the “Make Way for Ducklings” statues, walk across the street to the Common and eye the frog pond and ride the merry-go-round. In Boston Common we met Marty, who makes balloon creations. My daughter had just received a balloon-making kit, so when he offered her a balloon animal, she told him that she could make them too. Marty handed her an unshaped balloon and asked, “Will you make me a dog?”

The Stranger: Marty

The Word: Balloon

The poem I wrote:

“What you learn from a balloon”

Here we are
over the edge—
and there is beauty.


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

The word: Admiration

August 2, 2017, 7:15 am

Mark was the second—and catalyst for the final—helper with the vexing computer problem. I always fear making calls to giant companies because of the sheer wall of people. Mark presented himself as an individual happy to help, and for that I admired him.

The Stranger: Mark

The Word: Admiration

The poem I wrote:

Having lived in so
many rooms, having
broken things
and people, having
this small room
left, I can still
paint each wall
a different color,
sit in admiration
of all who walk in.

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

The word: Loyalty

July 26, 2017, 6:28 am

The day my biography was officially released, my computer died. This seemed appropriate, an enforced way to avoid what author Karen Russell calls “the weird exile between books.” Francis, who works at Harvard IT, was my first stop on my journey to fixed. He fixed the problem—temporarily. But fixed or not, he infused my morning with joy.

The Stranger: Francis

The Word: Loyalty

The poem I wrote:

Slung together

at day’s end,

nothing left

to bear, just

us to our gentle

boat returning;

and it is all such

sweetness, water

lapping, this

loyalty, nights in

this weathered

bed, so right

here and sweet.


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

The word: Enthusiasm

July 19, 2017, 9:34 am

Marty works at Annenberg, Harvard’s freshman dining hall—where, as a summer school instructor, I sometimes have lunch. The other day he stopped by to say a very warm hello.

The Stranger: Marty

The Word: Enthusiasm

The poem I wrote:

These, the toilers,
are my poets. Not
the splendid ones
but those who live more »

1, 2, 3, 4 ... 45,