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!


Boise State University invited Sir Salman Rushdie to speak at this year’s Distinguished Lecture Series. During the Q&A, someone asked which book has influenced him most. “Which day of the week is it?” he asked. But then he answered: The Arabian Nights. “They teach us that stories are untrue.”

At a small gathering afterward, a conversation broke out about fairy tales being sanitized. It took me half an hour to gather the courage to ask him for a word. When I asked, he thought for a long minute. “Strangers,” he offered.

The Stranger: Salman

His Word: Strangers

The poem I wrote:

I gave my girl the stranger talk
last night. We were going
to a performance, the kind
where she could split off
and be gone from me forever.

Strangers are as unmapped
as caves. Inside there might
be water, squeezes, the absence
of light. Bats or other things.

Perhaps we might make up
a password. Something silly
like “glowworm” that only family
will know. As I tell her this,

I think of the other thing I want
her to know: how people are good.
People want to know other people,
they want you to say hello.

We all were strangers once, before
a word surprised us. Before
some old mumbled story changed
the alignment of our stones.

Open sesame. Repeat the spells
that raise the oceans. Stay alive
if you can. With each stranger
we meet we see again that yes,
words open caves.

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