White Phosphorus, poem from the “Periodic Table of poetry” series by Chicago Poet Janet Kuypers

White Phosphorus

Janet Kuypers

Bonus poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series, #15, P

Seeing bombs from Viet Nam
and the white smoke rising —
with each bomb exploding,
I knew
that smoke…
It was Willie Pete,
white Phosphorus —
you couldn’t put it out
once it started burning.
This stuff would
destroy the forests
foreign to our
U.S. troops.

I know you can’t understand.
But I wanted you to know
that I haven’t felt close
to anyone
or anything
in years.

It sounds sick,
but seeing that footage,
seeing that white smoke
from that file footage,
it brought it all back to me.
It brought the emotions
flooding back to me
like it was yesterday.

Everything that seems
so volatile
about that war,
in a way
has become a part of me,
right down to my DNA.
You look at your tv screen
and think it makes no sense,
It’s a part of me.
I know I’m old now,
I know it’s only
a small part of me,
but I know I need it.
I can’t explain why,
but I do.

When you see the destruction
of Willie Pete…
Yeah, we knew what it was,
white Phosphorus,
but all of us called it that,
it was just easier
to say it then,
When you see the destruction
of that white Phosphorus,
you think of it
on some existential level,
like “oh, violence is bad,”
but when I see those
bombs going off,
and when I think of
what it was like
to live in that war,
that Willie Pete —
that white Phosphorus —
to us, that was our key
to getting through that hell.
You can’t understand,
but that
was the closest we had
to getting out alive.

Ununpentium, “Periodic Table ” poem by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#115, Uup)*

A month before you died,
on the day that she was born,
that was very possibly the last day
I talked to you.
I know you loved me,
but in the grand scheme of things,
you had to know
this relationship couldn’t last.

When you first asked me out,
My answer was quick:
I think it was
a hundred milliseconds
before I said no.
You had to know
that with a half-life so short,
we didn’t stand a chance.

And on that day, February second,
I sat on the other side of the country
at a bar with a man
who introduced me to philosophy.
It was good to see him,
to remind myself
of how I wanted to live.
Remembering how chemical reactions
were supposed to last,
I then realized
the ununtended consequences
of this pent up friction
between us.

Try to smash the right
ions from us together,
see what happens.
See if anything survives
long enough to even measure.

You know you had an uphill battle with me.


A hundred and fifteen days
after February 2nd,
three months after you died,
that was when I almost died too.
Because even though you bombarded me
with your high excitation energy,
this hot fusion would never work.

And look at what was left of me.

I didn’t want you to die.
I didn’t want you to be destroyed.
Did you seal your fate
by trying to bond with a part of me,
or should I have trusted my first instincts
so that your destruction would hurt me less.

I wish I could have told you
that this systematic elemental
bombardment of us,
this radioactive reaction,
was only temporary,
this doesn’t occur in nature,
we had to work so hard
to merely try to make something of us.
And as much as I hate to admit it,
I wonder
if this
was never meant to be.

* A Russian and American scientist team bombarded americium-243 with calcium-48 ions to produce ununpentium, historically known as eka-bismuth. Ununpentium is a temporary IUPAC systematic element name derived from the digits 115, where “un” is from the Latin “unum-” for one, and “Pent-” is from the Greek word for 5. Scientists usually just say element 115. Discovered February 2nd, 2004, it has a half life of 200 milliseconds, with decay at 100 milliseconds. (“Hot” fusion reactions deal with the synthesis of nuclei of ununpentium at high excitation energy.)

Ununoctium, “Periodic Table” poem by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#118, Uuo)

I first only heard of you a decade ago.
You seemed so reactive, so unstable,
and yet I was so attracted to you.
I should have known better.

I should have known that
your radioactive personality would
cause your destruction, so I guess
I’m glad I’m not around to see it.

I have only seen you three or four times
since you started to self-destruct,
so from afar I can only guess
what you’re made of, or what you can do.

But still, I can’t get you out of my mind,
so I’m left here to guess about you,
based on what little I could ever infer
about you. This is all you leave me.

When I saw you before, you seemed
kind, and noble when you were with me…
But that was before I saw what you
were made of, how hard you could be.

So much emanated from you with me,
but you’ve systematically shattered
any preconceived notions of who you are,
that I don’t even know what to believe.

You’re that explosive, and I’ve been
unsuccessful in any attempts to synthesize
with you… It’s funny, you seem
like you want to be discovered,

but I can only predict, calculate, or
extrapolate what I think you can do.
If only you would let me crack your shell
so I could see what you’re made of…

Francium, “Periodic Table of Poetry” poem by Chicago poet Janet Kupers


by Janet Kuypers

of Scars Publications
from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#087, Fr)

Thinking of you,
I’m reminded
of someone taking his mother’s guns
and killing her in an elementary school,
then taking out twenty children,
then five more adults,
before taking his own life.

Remembering your destructive ways
reminds me of going to a movie on opening night
before someone walks in,
cloaked in dark clothes
setting off smoke bombs
before killing anyone he could.

Your metallic personality,
you and your radioactive ways,
you decayed anything you touched.

So you wonder why I correlate you
to any and all destruction,
the way you’d be the instrument of death
by slamming so much fuel,
so much metal, so much life
into the tallest building you could find,
killing anything that crossed your path.

And yeah, I’d correlate you
with the government claiming to play nice
while you helped over eighty faithful followers
disintegrate in a fiery cataclysm.

I’ve seen what you can do.
I can’t help but make the connections.

In such a short burst of time,
you’ve killed seven
in a Sikh temple.

I’ve never seen you for long enough
to think I can know what you
might be like in bulk.
As I’ve said,
I’ve only seen you in these short bursts.

But oh,
what you’ve done
in those

I think it’s funny
how you unintentionally
chose Hitler’s birthday
to kill thirteen teens,
injure over twenty more,
on an otherwise average school day.

I know, I know you’re rare,
but when I see you,
the world sees you,
and we can’t forget.
I know it’s such a little amount of you
that exists at any time
throughout the entirety of the Earth,
and I know others
have tried to create you synthetically,
to try to learn from you,
but those amounts have still been too small
to make any difference.

It’s sad, that this is the way
you normally are —
your instability make me think
that you just can’t be real—
and I know that your rampages
usually last no more than twenty,
maybe as long as twenty-two minutes.

I’m just afraid
that you are becoming
more and more common in life.

After all of these years,
you have always been rare,
but your repeated appearances
in our lives scare me.
I know that with you, everything falls apart
so suddenly, so quickly so violently.
How much longer
will we cross our fingers,
while we anticipate
our next chance encounter?