Poetry for Strangers is about finding inspiration in community, in people, in the chance encounters of everyday life. PFS suggests that every person can be a “muse” of a poem. Every week of this year I will ask a stranger for a single word and then write a poem inspired by the word. I invite you to do the same.

Share your poem on this week’s word!


Michael came with a crew from New York to Boise to film a reality television show. We talked writing, how it happens in different environments: he had written a book of comic essays over the course of his daily 4-hour subway commute.

The Stranger: Michael

His Word: Action

The poem I wrote:

I spent age seven doing overnights
with a friend whose dad
had chosen life
at a ranch, the yellowing storm
of a new mother.
He had stepped lightly
away from home. My friend and I

played uncertainly under
the deadblue sky. We
pretended we lived
inside mushrooms and all
the acorns were old women
hiding in trees. At night we cabin-slept
with the old dead
Texas forests planking us
into our bunkbeds. I dreamt
there were such things as endings.

We were there to see chicks:
such a mystery, their legs crisped
to potato fry—so unlike
a dog or a baby. I didn’t dare
pick one up.
We held food and they rushed
to us: I walked into the bright blond
froth of them and felt it
under my shoe. A skeleton.
Something not-dirt. A fuzzy newborn
half-alive and I didn’t have
the guts to step again
and finish. My friend did it for me.

She would grow
into a girl who smashed caterpillars
to paint green pictures with their blood.
I had thought growing up
would be different: animals
flock, we provide
nourishment. Not being
fairy tale girls gone wrong.
I would wonder how St. Francis
did it, this mysterious
mercy, this action of being kind.
It is the first thing I remember killing.

“Do you want to play pretend
some more?” my friend asked after
the chicks had eaten. We tried
until dusk, until the truth yolked
around our edges and we knew
we were only
pretending to be good.


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