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 met Karen on my last morning in Austin. She was traveling with a friend we both cherish whose mother had just died. We talked about our lives, and about our friend’s mother. Her parenting philosophy had been never to indulge, but to open as many doors for her children as possible.

The Stranger: Karen

Her Word: Condolence

The poem I wrote:

“Memento Mori”

This day let us nod like thieves
at this thing we have stolen,
this air our lungs can use.
For my grandfather, it was a coal mining cap
kept close. For my daughter
a squirrel she saw dead
on the road. We all remember.


We have on our hands each hour
a souvenir: the work of remembering
takes all muscles. It takes blood
and bone. Last night
we tramped the neighborhood
with red popsicles – the boy
with rhubarb juice clotted
on his shirt and neck. The girl
in full gown and tiara
looking like Ann Boleyn.
Labrador found a dried squirrel
and carried that treasure
in his old mouth. Bleeding sugar
on our fresh front lawn,
good neighbors saying,
This is how to use an evening.
There is always condolence
in remembering nights
when life puts us
to good use.


I will keep them
on my desk, paper-weights:
the lining between the breathing
and the airless must be
some line-up game –
on the opposing side
they’re calling you.
How astonishing, then
to be alive still.


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