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!


A plate of pastries had been left in the coffee room of the Writing Program. Among them lay a cheese Danish. While I filled my mug with hot water, an instructor with blue-streaked hair began making coffee. “I am thinking about the Danish,” I told her. “What are you thinking about?”

“The fruit plate,” she answered. “But I don’t want you to feel bad for thinking about the Danish.”

I asked about her teaching and learned that she was writing her dissertation. “If I finish….” she began.

I had to interrupt: “Of course you will finish. You will not let yourself become one of those people who does half a dissertation and abandons the rest and spends a decade wondering why oh why did I spend all those years writing something unfinished when I could’ve gone to law school or medical school or just gotten a job!”

She responded, “True. I know I’m not one of those people because the difference between me and those people who are not writing their dissertations is that they are having a much better summer.” She finished making her coffee. “And you—” she said. “You can’t just leave that Danish there.”

“True,” I responded. Committed to our tasks, we both went about our days.

The Stranger: Willa

Her Word: Jug

The poem I wrote:

It was the first thing lost
when we left home:
the lifeline of bread crumbs,
the dripping jug of water.
Our sad lack of maps.
Soon enough we would find
the godlike pleasure
of making a house
from anything we have. Here’s
the real story of staying long
away, compiling candy sticks,
moss, spider-webs and glue:
it’s working all the days
to take up as little space
as possible.

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