In the fall, a fresh batch of poems will accompany the turning leaves and crisp air in Cambridge. Eleven poems will be imprinted onto new sidewalks under the feet of passing pedestrians. Five winners were selected as part of the city’s fourth annual Sidewalk Poetry Contest to decorate city pathways. Judges sifted through 139 entries from Cantabrigians ages 3 to 86. Each piece resonated, tugging on a range of emotions.
Some were whimsical, while others offered more serious commentary.
“It’s just something people stumble upon. It’s very surprising, and it can add little moments of joy to somebody’s day,” said Hilary Zelson, public art administrator with the Cambridge Arts Council. “Or something that’s wondrous or meaningful.”
The youngest poets submitted works about butterflies and siblings:
Butterflies fly in
Butterflies make me happy
Butterflies fly out
Bro eats so so much
Bro doesn’t like tomatoes
He plays with his trucks
The more experienced poets waxed about their lives and the nature of writing:
George was the love of my life
I was so proud to be his wife
We were together 61 Years
Shared a lot of laughter
Shed a few tears
Raised 9 children as best we could
They turned out well
Like we knew they would...
Thank you GOD ...for all the good
—Josephine Vendetti, 86
In Cambridge, Fair City, To be walked on
A Poem, embedded in cement
Can not be more
Than 10 lines
2-5-0 characters in all.
The Poet, stifled in ambition
Silenced thus into submission,
She heeds the City’s call.
—Alida J. O’Loughlin, 87
The winning poems reflect on hibernating mice and voles, fugitives on a frigid night, scullers on the river, the music of birds, and memories stirred by passing an old lover’s address.
The selection committee consisted of three past Cambridge Poets Populist, a student from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, and representatives from Cambridge Public Works, Cambridge Public Library, and Cambridge Arts. There are six poems from last year’s contest, which are also expected to be installed this year. Zelson said they’re considering the locations depending on the content of the poem as well as where sidewalks need to be replaced.
The poems allow for a bit of magic and serendipity to interrupt daily routines.
“Some of the poets who participated are well-known poets with lots of experience and training in writing, and some of the poets who were selected may be first time writers,” Zelson said. “We don’t have to put up signs explaining how you’re supposed to feel when you read it.”
Imagine them: between the frost heaves
and the cold’s blunt edge, they tunnel
in the lion-colored hay, making homes.
Curves in the snow-crust suggest
their nests: warm and full of grain.
Mice and voles survive the winter
by knowing it is temporary.
—Julia Mix Barrington, 27
We didn’t want to go to a shelter.
They would have parted us
men from women.
Caught in unforgiving ice,
we found an unlocked car to save us.
Even then, we knew we would not
survive the night.
By chance, we found an open hallway.
It was heated. Together we slept.
—Linda Larson, 70
fresh out of ice
the river is ribbed
this yellow day
by scullers’ oars
at the catch! —
they bury the blade
revel in its wake
—Mary Buchinger, 55
I lay my horn down
The singing bird near my door
Plays a better blues
—Rohan Nijhawan, 27
On Passing an Old Lover’s Address
Strange, all I know about you now
is that you opened the window
to let in this fine day.
—Susan Sklan, 68
The late-afternoon light
Coats the porches with promises.
Home is just a few more footsteps.
Sidewalk, letterbox, key in lock.
This is the place I learned to love
The soft sunsets, the passage of time.
—Alisa White, 23
Outside on a school trip, the game
was called, “Survival”. I was a raccoon.
You were some kind of carnivore. We
hid together in a thicket, not playing.
You brushed a raindrop off my nose.
I’d waited my whole omnivore life,
for that gentle gesture.
—Erin M. Hasley, 44
Power in a Pen
I am victory,
I am a champion of the quill!
I have a dozen honest notebooks
to attest to my great skill.
And the truth is here,
as it’s always been:
this little girl
knows the power in a pen.
—Grace Valaskovic, 14
Edge and Center
living on the edge
has allowed you
to show me
what living at the center
is all about
—Melinda Koyanis, 66
There’s a peculiar sadness to infinity.
Two parallel lines, forever side by side
yet forever apart -
The space between them infinitesimal
Two lines intersect, never to meet again
yet I find you, impossibly,
at another crossroads -
The most variable constant
there ever was.
—Sarah McGee, 22
Correction: Because of incorrect information provided to the Globe, an earlier version of this story included the wrong number of poems expected to be imprinted on Cambridge sidewalks. There will be 11 poems imprinted this year. The Globe regrets the error.Cristela Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.