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 have ten-year-old red cowboy boots that needed a shine. So I stopped by Riebe’s Downtown Shoe Repair, an over 100-year-old business. They didn’t take my debit card (who would, if you’re over 100 years old?) But Bob Riebe said, “Put a check in the mail. I figure if you don’t, you need the money a lot more than I.” I liked his shop and his words so I asked him for one.

His response: “You don’t want my words! All I know are swear words.”

But the young woman shining shoes said, “Bob, give her marshmallow!”

“All right,” he said.

When I asked for his email to send him the poem, Bob hooted. “Come on, honey!” he said. He held up an old heavy telephone.

The Stranger: Bob

His Word: Marshmallow

The poem I wrote:

“How to be a god”

To be a god, first
fashion yourself
up in red clay
from the riverbank
where you might
or might not have
been born. Claim

forever not: gods
come out of the sky,

not the sluice
of some woman
who let a man come
in. To be a god

you must cover
your tracks. Cut
ancestors out, cut
out sisters, take

a stand on celibacy.
Kill all things you
do not wish
to be god of.
Choose what you
do. Volcanoes
and the autumn

are taken, ocean
too, but there are still
sagebrush, oxlips,
marshmallows, things
newer than coal
that are still unclaimed.

Claim them. Rub
your scent over them.
Say, these are mine,
all must sacrifice
to me, pray to me,
give me praise.

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