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!


Hello again:

I hope you all had wonderful summers and are enjoying your starts to fall. I am thinking of a quote by Mark Van Doren: “I love the fall…things are dying, things that you don’t have to take care of anymore.”

News since the last poems. Personal news: there is a brand new boy, four months old! And professional news: there is a new book coming out on October 27, called The Creative Year: 52 Workshops for Writers. In addition I’m offering a new fall workshop series called Tea Seminars. More about the book & seminars on my website, and more about the boy in upcoming poems.

And onto the stranger:

I was with my sister at a hotel bar when a man and a woman from Mexico City sat next to us. She was wearing chunky metal rings in the shape of rabbits with intertwined ears, and my sister and I told her how much we liked them. As we got to talking, I thought: We are back to normal. My son is very definitively alive. The year is moving very definitively toward fall and winter. As I spoke with Paola, I felt ready to start again writing poems for strangers…

The Stranger: Paola

Her Word: Oblivion

The poem I wrote:

We used to have a joke that our dogs
had lives before us: the corgi as an ant,
the yellow lab a sequoia tree. We knew
them by the letters of their past lives.
The ant’s stinginess is in the word itself:
a trapped pinchlike creature with so few
letters. And then the sequoia, spilling
its vowels as bountifully as a snowmelt.

So ant and sequoia came back as dogs
and met in our house, etcetera etcetera,
chaos ensued. These were stories
we entertained but never believed
about the afterlife. In this way my children
know me before I reincarnated myself
as their mother. Somewhere between ant
and great tree. Perhaps I might have been
a salmon, caught somewhere in the cold
waters of mythy oblivion, my life
just stories, mostly probably made up.

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