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!


One reason I went to Austin in April (see last week’s poem) was to attend a gala in honor of the University of Texas Chemical Engineering Department that was named for my 100-year old grandfather—the subject of an upcoming biography that I just completed! The department and the man were celebrating one hundred years of being. This party was a terrific explosion of chemical engineering loyalty—much more fun than I’d ever heard of anyone having at a department party. And Steve, the photographer, documented the evening with a quiet focus.

Also – Poetry for Strangers was the focus of a radio show last Sunday. You can find it here for another week or so.

The Stranger: Steve

His Word: Focus

The poem I wrote:

“Marriage Vow”

I cast a May spell
this time on us both.
In my hand I hold
sixteen hundred other lives,
each an ashy twig
against the brightness of leaves
outside our window.
If I were thunder
I could not tell our life

Drafted in the early summer rain.
Drafted while
my babies turn themselves
into rabbits and back.
Some animal skitters
along the scratched-up floor.
This love poem is for my eyes only.

My love, there are burnt
pieces: quiet, combustible cinders—
days we reduce each other to tasks.
These are lovely but less so than the green.

Tonight I swear
I will remember the green.

I pay attention but my attention ages,
diffuse. I could not find you
so I made a promise
to the rain. ‘Grip my focus
like death,’ I said.
‘Say, You are the craziest of fish.
Say, Enemy, you will
not slip.’

Each time the mind wanders
some withered-grass crone
from years ahead flies
into my window to say,
Remember: you
made a deal.


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