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 of my first jobs out of college was writing the SparkNotes for the Harry Potter series, which means I can match anyone in the world for Harry Potter trivia. I met this stranger at the Discovery Center of Idaho, which featured an exhibit on “fizziology”. Jax was working the front desk, and she had a Harry Potter tattoo (for curious fans, it was of the Deathly Hallows.) When I asked for a word, she said either jealousy or envy—she had been thinking recently about the difference.

The Stranger: Jax

Her Word: Jealousy

The poem I wrote:

It began with jealousy over dirt:
whose was root-richer and subject
to the most sun. That mortal winter
when the fog settled in,
the trees in our neighborhood
developed a habit: they’d squat
over each other’s houses,
grab the roof by the chimney
and shake it, holding tight
like a vampire’s teeth
until the sun came.
Nobody thought anything
until the girls on our street
began acting out a strange fidelity to trees.
These girls – so smart and so broken –
hardened. They went silent
and their bark flecked off and smelled
like vanilla. We called the doctors,
not seeing these amazing signs of life.

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