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!


“Inflammation, baby!” This was part of Faith’s explanation of why she thinks vegans are generally happy people. By eating plants, they have less inflammation. I was at the Boise Coop studying the pastry case when Faith recommended I try the vegan donut (which, by the way, is sound advice: they are great and I have eaten many). This led to a lively conversation about veganism. I eat vegan-ish, which is to say mostly vegan at home, which is to say not vegan by vegan standards, but riotously vegan in contrast to the standard American diet. Our conversation left me feeling…happy.

The Stranger: Faith

The Word: Happy

The poem I wrote:

He has come
through the window
again to relish

the strange mortality
of her body. He tells
of countries

whose bright trees
fist into bloom. She
looks and looks

but in the darkness
cannot see
his face.


What remains
is quite a new

She thinks,
how quickly
we go gray.

His visits so strange
and they leave
her almost

but not entirely
happy. He snores
his cherrywood breath.

Her tools for knowing
are minor but here
in the room:

—an unlit candle, the fire dying—

She eases him off her,
she lights the candle,
she looks.


He is beautiful
in a way
she couldn’t have

his mouth prettier
than hers:

such unconcerned
eyelids, such wings
sheer against the sheets.

She knows
his curls from touch,
the hard shapes

of his clavicle and ilium;
now she sees
that he is unlike

any man she knows.

She shivers, wax
drips. So
Cupid left Psyche.


Don’t worry
about the ending,
for this myth ends well.

We care only
for the point
when her life changed.

When she first saw
him she chose him,
while he hated

being seen

(see the bending
of his face, the frantic
thrust of his wings?)

When she opens her eyes
she will find herself

crumbling into her loss,
and I dare all of you—

once in your life to love like this.


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