The Boston subway is giving billboard-weary commuters and culture-lovers a taste for the neighborhoods they're traveling through - in the form of homespun literature.

Poetry and prose compositions etched on slabs of Vermont quarry can be found in nine stations along the Orange Line, which courses through diverse ethnic localities from Chinatown to Roxbury, a predominantly black section.The slabs, two at each station, were put in place between 1987 and 1990.

The project is designed to incorporate the arts into the design of the stations and to reflect the cultural mix of neighborhoods served by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

At the station in Stony Brook, home to both blue-collar workers and yuppies, "The Dinner" by Rosario Morales, a Cambridge writer of Puerto Rican heritage, is a celebration of women.

A section of the poem reads:

"Squatting by the doorsill she pounds garlic and herbs. And she chops with a cleaver, garlic, ginger, scallions, peppers, parts a small piece of beef into a thousand slices. Someone toasts coffee, someone else grinds bananas for banana beer. . . . The air is rich with smells and sounds."

"I have no doubt that some of those women (commuters) are running home to make the dinner," Morales said.

At the stop in Chinatown, a bustling area of grocery stores and restaurants, commuters eager to get somewhere else can share a quiet moment in an immigrant's garden, captured in Marea Gordett's poem, "Mr. Yee Is in the Garden."

"Mr. Yee is in the garden talking to his flowers

"I don't know what he says

"but I know they love him, little boats

"coming to anchor in his hands."

At Ruggles Street on the edge of Roxbury, "Harriet Tubman aka Moses" by retired English professor Samuel Allen is a poem in praise of the abolitionist who led hundreds of blacks out of slavery in the Deep South.

The program, funded by federal and state transportation agencies, was designed by UrbanArts Inc., a non-profit arts agency in Boston.

"We wanted the literature to reflect the communities. We wanted the pulse of the communities to be captured," said Pamela Worden, president and founder of UrbanArts.

Worden coordinated the project with Sam Cornish, a poet and creative writing instructor at Boston's Emerson College who thinks literature ought to be part of the urban environment.

"We are accosted all the time by words, and very few of them are beautiful or inspiring," she said.