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!


Hi friends,

A new week, a new stranger, and a new prose poem from the exchange: I met her back in December at a Christmas cookie exchange, where all I wanted to do was eat her cookies, these chocolate-rolled peanut-butter rice-crispy balls. Months later we met grocery shopping and remembered each other through the cookies we made.

The Stranger: Katie

Her Word: Rustic

The poem I wrote: 

We are in the same woods again. There is richly pine-scented air. There are quiet places to bear our babies. There are other people, just a few. Other people tired of the towns. | We moved to the woods because we wanted other currencies. Not hard metal ones, but one arm for another arm, one broom of dried sage for a jar of fresh jam, rustic things that are good enough for the bears. We did not want to be stuck waiting for sunlight to come through our window once a day. We wanted to live in the sun-spots. | Here we see faces of the bears. They eat raw fish when they can catch it. They rest deep and heavy with tree trunks between their thighs. Rain wets them. Wind shivers them. At night hunger growls from them like the rumbling of the earth. That is the difference between us and the bears: they are hungry but know better than to eat each other. They can still their minds into hibernation, while we can hardly meditate. Each time we try, our stomachs growl and we look up again, hungry. | We had woods shored up for centuries, bearing our name. We are spending it now, cutting it down for firewood, eating the animals. Can we grow more woods before the last trees come down, leaving us exposed? Can we return to town and say, Hi there, hello again, we didn’t quite make it in the woods. We turn at night in our fear, dreaming of townspeople’s faces, glowing half-happy and pasted with a sense of belonging, those people who raise children to avoid the sun, who sometimes go camping on weekends. | We wake the sleeping, unanswering bears and ask: what if our woods run out and we have to share our trees, our moon? | But even when we run out, we will have leaned this: that being alive involves using everything, your entire body, crouched small on both feet, low and bear-hungry, never resting or tilting, never daring to pretend that you only need half your weight to survive.

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