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!


On a camping trip last week with our California cousins, we stopped by a steelhead spawning tributary on the North Umpqua River’s Steamboat Creek. There, for eighteen summers, Lee Spencer has served as the Fishwatch Caretaker for The North Umpqua Foundation. “You can call me the fish-sitter,” he said by way of an introduction when I stopped by to look at his fish. Twice while he and I spoke, the fish jumped out. “They wanted to get a closer look at us. You could tell by the angle of the jump.” When I asked him for a word, he said, “I’m overwhelmed. I know too much about fish.”

The Stranger: Lee

The Word(s): Too much

The poem I wrote:

Sometimes it is too much,
the scarring river push
from freshwater to salt
to fresh, a heavy journey
just to stay a species.
For one summer, let us be
content in a pool
with hardly an otter
to swallow us. Our days
quiet as lakes, our skills
to survive thinned
by this lovely deep cold.
In this life we won’t visit
again, but still we mouth
vows to these waters:
forgive us if we can’t
help but haunt you.

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