Call it "transit torpor." Commuters know it well. There are few things half so blah as riding the bus.

The rider's mind is open (if it isn't empty). There is nothing much to look at (you've seen those streets before). Because humming bugs your neighbors, thrillers make you carsick, and you can't yell "faster, faster," there is nothing much to do. Metro understands.

Into that dull sameness - almost any day now - Metro will insinuate Poetry and Art.

Metro, which owns approximately 1,800 buses, has accepted for display 10,000 colored posters, each of which presents an illustrated verse.

The posters look a lot like ads, until you start to read them. Then you see that they are selling something more peculiar than cigarettes, or bronze, or the Bus Driver of the Month.

To take one example, perhaps it has occurred to you, as you cross the District line, how odd it is to be half in Prince George's County, and half in D.C. Poet Lisel Mueller has considered a similar situation. (Because she is a poet, and she has the license, she has sent her mind aloft.) she writes:

There must have been a moment when my knees were in one country, my shoulders in another.

But the plane did not buck the stewardess kept smiling, the thin air outside remainded thin and all parts of my body continued to speak to each other.

Her poem is called "Border Incident." Artist Harry Holland, who has drawn the illustration, shows her cut in two.

Her car card, and a dozen others, come to us from Poetry on the Buses, a Pittsburgh organization, which began to offer culture to commuters in 1974.

Philadelphia, Provo, Utah, Erie, Pa., Miami and Peoria also have bus poems. Poems on the Buses has an annual budget of $26,000 ($16,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts, $6,000 from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and $4,000 from U.S. Steel). "Washington is important. We're hoping to go national," says Pittsburgh's Frances Balter who helped develop the idea.

The poetry is new, not old, and it is not too "difficult." "It's suitable for a mass audience," says Mrs. Balter.

The poetry is new, not old, and it is not too "difficult." "It's suitable for a mass audience," says Mrs. Balter.

Some of it is pastoral (poet kathleen) Sewalk writes of small brown frogs, Anthony Hecht discusses "the summer rain, or seedpearls of the mist"). Some of it is ethnic. (One verse is in Polish, another is in Spanish, both come with translations.) And poet Maralyn Lois Polak is represented by a verse that is about dead love. It's called "Trophy."

It is done: the past a dead fish between us.

Its tail sticks out of your jacket, embarrasing you in public places.

And the smell! . . .

The poetry, which Mrs. Balter says was selected by committee, ranges from the good to the so-so. So, too, does the art. Romare Bearden shows us how much he has learned from the cut-outs of Matisse, Alvin Dunkle owes as much to Wyeth, and that Hopper isn't a Hopper. It's by Jon Carsman.

Metro will install the posters, two car cards to a bus in the empty spaces (and there are a lot of them) in between the ads. The posters will be changed every six weeks.

For those who peddle cigarettes, ads on Metro buses cost $2.85 a card. The charge for "public service" ads is an "installation fee" of 50 cents apiece. For Poetry on the Buses, that fee has been waived.

T.S. Eliot knew that commuting can get kind of scary -

When an undergroun train, in the tube, stops too long between stations

And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence

And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen

Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about . . .

If it does nothing else, Poetry on the Buses will help fill that gap.

The program will be inaugurated at 11 a.m. Saturday in front of the Longfellow statue at M Street and Connecticut Avenue NW. Robert Hayden, poetry consultant at the Library of Congress, will read verses. Officials from Metro, the federal government, Poetry on the Buses, and Carnegie-Mellon University, the sponsors of the project, will be in attendance. The public is invited, too.