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!


I sat next to Claire at a café early one Saturday morning and immediately fell into conversation. (Is there internet? | I like your dress! | You’re in the Air Force? | How to know where to apply for graduate school?) It was a conversation that burbled and shimmered. Claire was so lively and charismatic: if we both hadn’t brought work that we needed to do, we might have talked all morning.

The Stranger: Claire

Her Word: Brink

The poem I wrote:


For a hundred days after
my son was born I fed
my body dark beer, chocolate,
peaches. You can’t build
a baby on those things
but I was building the
opposite: a shed where
that baby had been,
a city in his absence,
soft peach flesh and
the heft of wheaty beer,
the ancient riches
of the cacao bean.
He came at home—
not in my bed but in
another. The things
a baby strips from the
mother’s soul cannot
be counted by a midwife.
It is the burning of Troy,
a part of you that never
regrows, a whole forest
lost when the baby comes.
Woman generates: growing
other worlds and filling
them with people enough
to keep filling worlds
forever, killing all the
old worlds as she goes.
Can they be rebuilt
with peaches, chocolate,
and beer? After he comes
you are not as you were.
You don’t know how
to be. Full days grapefruit
into sweet and sour
segments of three hours
each: somebody must
have you, you are the only
food. On the first
walk out of the house,
the baby strapped on your chest,
you, he, on the brink
of the world you two make
and The World, where
do you go? Grocery shopping
for a single peach, the darkest
chocolate you can find,
and stout. One bottle is enough.
For nine months, you managed,
you ate, and someone lived.
Now the eating is a heavenly
sort, all about pleasure—
fill your gut with peach
where the baby-flesh
used to be. When the baby comes
you know you are going
to die and die you do. These
are afterlife foods,
nobody can live on them.
Chocolate, peaches, and beer.
Of course not. But you tell
them: It is not about living.
You can’t build a baby
but you can resurrect a life on
chocolate, peaches, and beer.

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