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!


At a fundraiser gala for Boise Contemporary Theater, Josh came on stage in a cowboy hat and boots. He was the auctioneer, and listening to him was a highlight of the evening. I asked him afterward how he learned it. (If you haven’t heard an auctioneer in action, find a video online—it’s a whole other language.) He said auctioneering ran in the family, that he came from a line of giants in the business and had to work hard to join them. As I began to write his poem, I realized there is a theme to the strangers I tend to ask for words. They are people who are really, really devoted to what they do, whatever that doing may be. These are the people who make me curious.

The Stranger: Josh

His Word: Auctioneer

The poem I wrote:

We’re not that far from high school
but already I see the hardness
of our wishes, how we would’ve shed
our allowances to go to an auction
where adult years were sold cheap.
Where for a single night we could
be eighteen or have sex or even just
drive or act like somebody’s
mother. Or shed the bridles
of our costly educations and
get a dead-end job or a good one,
anything but this. The auctioneer
says that the highest bids
go for childhood and wisecrack old
age: times when the body
is shooting toward the future
too fast for thought; he says
the corners of life are when
people forget to ask to do it
more than once, the times
bidders know for rock-certain
that we all get to do all of it.
The auctioneer holds in his hands
all the years we yearn for, he raises
the price even of fragments he knows
nobody wants, nobody will remember.

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