Words on Canvas texts - 2020

Words on Canvas

2020 Spring Writing Competition Winners

We invite you to listen to poems and stories inspired by art and written by students at University of Florida and Santa Fe College for Words on Canvas.

The Words on Canvas writing competition takes place each spring, and is open to all UF and Santa Fe College students with a passion for art and writing.

Read and listen to their stories here, and download the entire booklet from our website at harn.ufl.edu/wordsoncanvas

  • Joshua Evangelista (UF English & Theatre), “Of Old Man’s Cloth” - 1st Place 
  • Angelina Bonilla (SFC Microbiology), “Death in B Flat” - 2nd Place
  • Valentina Sarmiento (SFC Journalism), “The Ballad of Orange Julius” - 3rd Place
  • Hannah Lazar (UF English), “Black and White” - Honorable Mention
  • Brianna Steidle (UF Psychology), “Half-Cubism” - Honorable Mention
  • Christine Taylor (UF English), “Times Square, 1979” - Honorable Mention

Click here to listen to the winning submissions.

“Of Old Man’s Cloth” by Joshua Evangelista

Inspired by: El Anatsui. Old Man’s Cloth, 2003

The ridges deep and broad

fabric stretched like

folds over heavy-

lidded eyes.

A story shackled and

plowed like currents

cross the Atlantic.

A people petrified.

Matter turned to mineral.

May its banner fly high

for misery ephemeral.

“Death in B Flat” by Angelina Bonilla

Inspired by: Imai Oshin. Skeleton. Circa 1920-1930

I’m afraid of Death

maybe you are, too.

but of all the mysteries and myths

I know this is true:

space hums in B flat

so there is a song

a celestial orchestra

and life sings along

Death might be a dancer

pirouetting through time

through the yawning of space

to music sublime

a ceaseless waltz,

a pas de deux

Death dances with Life

a dance for two

I think Death sways gently

as he moves to the hum

in tune with the groans

of his dancing bones

when he offers his hand,

over the stellar expanse

do not be afraid

it is only a dance

“The Ballad of Orange Julius” by Valentina Sarmiento

Inspired by: Noel Mahaffey. Night-Times Square, 1979

Neon effervescence sets the air abuzz.

Humming like a hornets' nest; a fluorescent Midas touch

blinding passive passersby and pedestrians alike.

Claiming its own circadian rhythm in defiance.

My fixed stare,

a concession,

doubles as an unspoken confession.

Letting liquid courage ferment at the back of my throat.


             my breath

                      still honors

                                their Pulse.

A million tongues have already professed their affection-

add me to the list,

Androgyny, my love.

I turn to the ostentatious orangery;

they say citrus stains the teeth.

It tastes to me of tangerine and technicolor.

Sweet and sour and feverishly female.

“Black and White” by Hannah Lazar

Inspired by: André Kertész. Washington Square Park (child on swing, 04-04-70, #20A), 1970

Heather hated the color black. Black was storm clouds and deep water and shadows. Today was scary enough without the reminders. If it were up to her everyone would be wearing white, but no one asked for her opinions. No one wanted the opinions of a child; it was why she now sat alone in a stiff black gown upon a rusty park swing. She wasn’t really alone, but her guardian paid so little attention to her she might as well be.

“Aunt Linda, is Mommy an angel now?”

Her aunt looked up, eyes swollen from crying. Little black veins of mascara pooled into bruises against a tidal wave of grief. Her aunt took some time to respond, worrying the thick pearls strung around neck with gloved fingers. Heather didn’t mind; she was patient. After all, Heather was a veteran of funerals. She had been a baby when they lowered her father into the ground, but it still counted. He had left them after some war. Heather never knew which one and didn’t like to ask. It made her mom look like Aunt Linda did now.

“Of course, she is Heather. She’s up there in heaven with your daddy right now.”

Then it was decided. Heather was going to fly up and greet them. She pumped her little legs furiously, kicking up dust and scuffing the tops of her clunky black dress shoes. Pretty soon she rocked herself into a rhythm and only had to sway where the world pulled to continue her descent into the sky.

“Not too high Heather. I don’t want you hurting yourself and ruining that nice dress.”

Heather didn’t hear her. Not with the wind whistling through her ears like a chorus of angels beckoning her home. She was close now. The faded blue sky spread out before her as the sun dipped behind the trees to bathe her fair ivory skin in buttery light. Her small fists clung to the metallic chain, staining her hands a faint orange where the rust met her palms. Chain links pressed little divots to run from forearm to fingertip.

“Heather get down from there! It’s getting late, and we should be getting home.”

She had no home. Her home was buried six feet below them. She wanted better. She wanted to be above. Heather was so high up now that each swing sent the old playset below her rattling to buck against the earth in thunderclaps. She could feel the momentary weightlessness as she was pulled from her seat before being viciously yanked back down. It was time.


Aunt Linda was a moment too late. Heather leaned back, the air tugging hair in front of her eyes as the swing slung backwards, thrashing as a live, writhing thing. She hung suspended for a moment, then momentum propelled her small frame skyward, the chain snapping to clatter against the ground in a tinkling of church bells. She flung herself at the milky twilight, black dress billowing, and arms stretched out as wings. The moon a faint white halo coaxing the stars into the sky. They winked at Heather as old friends, as family. Heather was flying home. 

“Half-Cubism” by Brianna Steidle

Inspired by: Bertram Hartman. City Blocks, c. 1929


 after Luljeta Lleshanaku 

It’s November now, and the mosquitoes

have long since died.

Steam tiptoes around iron bars

and upward.

Below the streets the subway rumbles;

a giant turns in his sleep,

his hand brushing the pitted stone chimney.

Dawn sets to shredding tower by tower

(the sidewalk, still shaded,

pimpled with grass, laughs heartily).

A curly beard cracks open his Bible

and begins, in birdsong:

Look toward heaven

and if you are able

number the stars

“Times Square, 1979” by Christine Taylor

Inspired by: Noel Mahaffey. Night-Times Square, 1979

Rainbow droplets fall, 

Following the slant of her chin.

For the moment, she allows them.

They reflect neon warning lights.

The honking horns answer them: 

“Flee, young blaze; it’s late.”

She breathes in fire, 

Leaning on a Chevy Drag van,

Facing the glow of danger, Fear,

Like smoke, clutching each tired lung

In a calculated grip.

Dark angels watch her.

Times Square joins their play, 

1979 devils.

New York tangles her curls. She screams.

Garish “Orange Julius” light

Reveals a Buchnera print

On her poisoned throat.

The horns sound distant, 

as if evading her anguish.

With defeated gasps, blood, and tears, 

She pulls cotton over satin, 

Praying for the strength to flee.

Curse the Incubi of New York City.

Words on Canvas 2020 was coordinated by Errol Nelson, the Harn Museum Campus Engagement Intern.

We gratefully acknowledge the UF faculty members who graciously served as judges this year

  • Derek Burdette, Assistant Professor of Art History
  • Delia Steverson, Assistant Professor of English 
  • Phillip Wegner, Professor of English and Marston-Milbauer Eminent Scholar

Words on Canvas is presented with the generous support of the UF Honors Program.

Image Credits:

El Anatsui

Old Man’s Cloth, 2003

Aluminum and copper wire

16 ft. x 17 ft. 1 in. (487.7 x 520.7 cm)

Museum purchase with funds from friends of the Harn Museum


Bertram Hartman

City Blocks, c. 1929

Oil on board

48 x 30 1/8 in. (121.9 x 76.5 cm)

Gift of William H. and Eloise R. Chandler


André Kertész

Washington Square Park (child on swing, 04-04-70, #20A), 1970

Gelatin silver print; double weight air dried, glossy

Image: 8 × 10 in. (20.3 × 25.4 cm)

Gift of Lori and Kenneth Polin Family


Noel Mahaffey

Night-Times Square, 1979


17 1/2 x 15 in. (44.5 x 38.1 cm)

Gift of Leonard Velick


Imai Oshin


Japanese, Taisho and Showa, Late Taisho - early Showa era, circa 1920-1930

Burl wood

11 x 7 1/4 x 4 5/8 in. (27.9 x 18.4 x 11.7 cm)

Museum purchase, funds provided by the Robert H. and Kathleen M. Axline Acquisition Endowment