Lawrencium, Periodic Table poem by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#103, Lr)

I’ve always tried to figure you out.
I could never pinpoint your true destiny.
All I know
is that your radio
activity to me
left my bones so brittle.
I know your heart is a hand grenade.
You’ve made my skin so paper thin.
You’re corroded me
until my lips
are forever shut.

Zinc poem by Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series

After my injectable medication prescription started,
I learned that the drug I had to take
would suppress my immune system,
which meant I’d have to start getting flu shots,
dress for the weather because it’s easier
to get a cold or a fever,
and get more religious
about taking more vitamins and minerals.

Time to o.d. on vitamin C.
Take some D when the sun’s not out.
Get your daily B, E, iron, calcium, and Zinc.

It’s funny, I see Zinc throat lozenges
for when people get sick
to try to speed their recovery,
but I figured I should hedge my bets
and take the supplements every day.

When I told my sister I started taking Zinc
after the injectable medication regimen began,
she was stunned. “You can take that much?
I can’t take that much Zinc like that daily.”

But the thing is, Zinc is in nearly one hundred
enzymes needed for plant and animal life.
So whether or not you think the idea
of eating this metal is good for you or not,
it’s apparently needed, and if it’ll help me stay healthy
I’ll make a point to somehow consume my share.

Besides, when cold season comes annually
I see more and more advertisements
for zinc lozenges and over the counter medications,
because zinc will help stop any infections
so that people can get on with their lives again.

I mean, two billion people in developed countries
actually even have Zinc deficiency,
which could cause growth retardation,
delayed sexual maturity, regular diarrhea,
or the one I have to fear: infection susceptibility.

So I just have to keep in mind
the ways that Zinc is needed in the body…
Being the forth most common element
(behind iron, aluminum and copper),
it’s easy to want to consume Zinc
because you think it’s entirely for your own good.
But even though Zinc as an element
is hard and brittle,
too much Zinc can actaully
sap the copper from our bodies
(because we apparently need
a lot of metal elements in our body
to keep us strong and make us work right).
And the way too much Zinc
can sap the copper from our bodies,
soil with too much Zinc from local mining
could mean that plants (which need metals
to live, and we need those plants for food)
won’t be able to absorb the other metals they need.

And since it was discovered in the seventeen hundreds,
alchemists used to burn zinc from the air,
to get what they called “white snow,”
or “philosopher’s wool,” because it collected in puffs.

Hmmm. Philosopher’s Wool.
Not half bad sounding.
Maybe I can wax philosophic
about how Zinc — this philosopher’s wool —
can protect my immune system,
and help me grapple with the
philosophical questions of life.

But really, after the Germans discovered
Zinc in the seventeen hundreds, they started
using it as a plating of steel,
and we have later found
that Zinc is a great anti-corrosive agent,
because it’s more reactive
than iron or steel.
Zinc was used throughout history also in brass,
but thinking of those nearly one hundred enzymes
used for plant and animal life that use Zinc,
it made me think of all of the compounds
and ions Zinc is now used for:
Zinc gluconate is that dietary supplement,
Zinc chloride is added to lumber as a fire retardant,
Zinc sulfide is even used in luminescent paints,
and hey, let’s make this a little more personal
for us humans here,
Zinc pyrithione is used for anti-dandruff shampoo,
and Zinc chlorinate is used in deodorants…

So yeah, from what I’ve learned
Zinc is needed in so many ways,
on so many levels, for both us animals
and the plants we need to live our lives.
It’s strange to think that one element like Zinc
can be used for many different purposes
(like stopping metals from corroding
or stopping wood from catching fire)…
But we also have to keep in mind
that Zinc, in nearly one hundred enzymes
needed for our plant and animal life,
proves that we need Zinc within us
as well as around what we need.
I don’t know, I’m just glad
that my stomach doesn’t react badly
to taking Zinc supplements daily,
because since I want to make sure
I’m as healthy as I can be
for as long as I can be,
taking more of a metallic element like Zinc
than the average person does
really is a small price to pay.

Sulfur poem by Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series

When I’ve always thought of Sulfur,
I thought of it’s caustic smell,
or the fact that it’s mixed with things
so its used to bleach paper,
or as a fixing agent
when making photography prints.
It’s been used for vulcanizing rubber,
and it has been used as a fertilizer;
I know they use it in compounds
to make anti-inflammatory drugs, too.
(I only know this because
I’ve had an allergic reaction
to taking sulfa drugs, giving me
a rash all over my body.)
But I know it’s needed for life
by many small organisms (and it’s
even needed for keeping human
skin and hair healthy).

Wait… So if us humans need it,
why am I allergic to it? I mean,
my hair’s not brittle, and my skin’s
not falling off… I really hope
that it’s just a matter of me having
just enough of this stuff, because
too much can be bad for me…

And the thing is, I had no idea
that Sulfur was also mentioned
in the Torah and in the Bible…
Historically it was even used
to make the best gunpowder,
and it was commonly used
in Ancient Greece, China and Egypt.

So I guess it makes sense
that if we have combined Sulfur
(though I really prefer to spell it
in Latin with a “ph” instead…)
with so many other things
for our needs in life right now,
that it would have been used
throughout history so much
that this element finds it’s way
into religious books
throughout history too…

“Iridium” poem by Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series

I was looking for different pieces of jewelry
at the more expensive jewelry store;
I knew Christmas was coming
and I wanted to splurge on an expensive gift.
But I wanted something truly unique,
so more than thinking about the gemstones
I was looking for the most original setting.
Silver, 10k, 14k, 24k and White Gold, Platinum…
Then I thought I should look at the Periodic Table
to see what other elements there are in the
same Platinum group metals,
so I can find just the right metal
for the perfect setting.

Okay, on first glance at the Periodic Table,
before I even looked at the Platinum group metals,
I see Aluminum. But that’s right out,
when it can be as flexible as tin foil…
Tungsten’s used for environmentally-friendly
Bullet shell casings, but I don’t know…
Wait a minute, if I think aluminum’s
too malleable, then IN the Platinum group metals,
actually right next to Platinum in the
Periodic Table, what about Iridium?
It’s the 2nd densest element there is,
and it look silvery-white like Platinum,
but also has just a hint of a gold hue to it.
This sounds perfect.

Wait a minute, I think because Iridium
is so hard, it’s also brittle — I hope
it wouldn’t break apart. So actually,
because it’s so dense and resistant to heat
or corrosion, people probably can’t
work with it to actually make it
into anything… So I guess Iridium’s out.

But the fascinating thing about Iridium
is that when scientists studied the
Cretaceous period and Paleogene period
boundary from 65 million years ago,
they found a strong layer of Iridium-
rich clay… And although no one knows
for sure, scientist Luis Alvares
lead a team in 1980 who theorized
that a massive asteroid collision —
or a comet impact — which historically
drove the dinosaurs to extinction —
that these interstellar objects that
collided with the Earth — were rich
in Iridium, leaving Iridium in the clay
that separated these two geologic periods.

It’s just a theory, but it sounds
kind of cool, and it’s just one more way
to find Iridium so fascinating.

It’s a shame I can’t have it made
into the right jewelry setting…

And you know, Iridium is obtained
as a byproduct of copper and nickel
mining, and was even used in 1834
in fountain pen nibs mounted on gold,
so apparently they were able
to work with Iridium then…

Now that I think about it, there might be
something to this Alvarez hypothesis,
because right now there is
what they call the Iridium satellite
constellation, which literally is
a set of satellites covering voice
and data storage around the world
for everyone using cell phones
or mobile electronic devices…

So yeah, if Iridium can relate to
a change in geologic historic periods,
and if it can relate to satellites
orbiting the Earth now for our communication,
that’s all the more reason to admire
this dense, heavy element anywhere
we can find it.