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!


While visiting my awesome brother John and my awesome sister-in-law Michele in LA, I met their dear friends Sophia, a photographer, and Ian, an actor. We stood near the kitchen in my brother’s house and ate handfuls of mukhwas, the sugar-coated fennel seeds you find at Indian restaurants. (“John,” Ian said in the kind way we speak to the oddities of friends, “You eat more sugar than a hummingbird.”) Later this same visit I heard somebody say, in this business you are only allowed one other life. I put the two together.

The Strangers: Sophia + Ian

The Word: Tertiary

The poem I wrote:

In this town you get one life,
sometimes on Saturday two.
(Oh do not get
snuffed out by that,
keep nose low, keep smelling.)
As for tertiary lives
ask your gods if it isn’t better
to hold them
underwater like drowning a dog—
If they still can breathe
when the tide lets out,
they are yours, yours to keep.

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