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!


It was hard to catch Azam to ask for a word, for she was deep in a quest with a teenager to find a book. Azam has worked at the public library for twenty years: when I first saw her, she was putting on a puppet show for a hundred spellbound children. This week the library is papered with signs announcing her retirement party. I asked her about it and she replied: “It’s been twenty years of fun.”

The Stranger: Azam

The Word: Peace

The poem I wrote:

It was the wrong first kiss and I am remembering this now, for no reason, or for the reason that I have had so many birthdays and that they, my young, will soon be kissed by others than me: He had given me a ring. We were being driven somewhere by one of our parents. We were thirteen and I was hoping for a kiss. If on the lips, it would be the first. He held my hand in the car. This was close, but not a first. The trees whirled past the windows, sprawling in peace, like adults. When we were dropped off, his father—huge, red, like a sausage—swooped in and wished me happy birthday. He kissed me like an uncle on the lips, and that was it: he had done what I had long wanted his son to do, and what his son, in the end, would not do. Other kisses came later and in truth, I cannot remember them all. Driven home, being dropped off home, being disappointed—always the passive verb, the passive verb that is a teenager. That night I saw it did not matter who kissed and who did not kiss. That either way the night could not hurt me, for all I had really wanted for my birthday was a story.    

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