Rhodium, “Periodic Table of Poetry” poem by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#45, Rh)

When you say the word “menthol,”
images probably crop up in your head
of women holding a cigarette stick
like she’s using her smoke
as an orchestra wand,
tracing the line of smoke
like she’s conducting a symphony
with her mint-tasting cancer stick.

But menthol’s also used in lip balms
(I really like that stuff, too,
I like the minty flavor on my lips) —
it’s even used in cough medications.
It can be used in those Icy Hot patches,
menthol’s in decongestants
like Vicks VapoRub, it’s in
aftershaves to relieve razor burn.
Yeah, and speaking of the taste
in cigarettes or lip balm, menthol
is in mouthwashes, toothpastes,
even chewing gum.

So really, now that you know how
widely it’s used now, you can see
how menthol’s demand is now so huge
compared to the natural supply.
So in Japan, one man even won in 2001
the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for
a process to meet the demand
for more menthol worldwide.
This Japanese team used Rhodium
based catalysts for menthol synthesis.

And yeah, Rhodium is used in catalysts
for anything from automobile
catalytic converters, or making
certain silicone rubbers. And sure,
Rhodium is used for jewelry,
coating sterling silver to stop tarnishing
or electroplating white gold and platinum,
making it white and reflective.

I mean, the Guinness Book of World Records
gave Paul McCartney a Rhodium-plated disc
in 1979 for being history’s all-time best-selling
songwriter and recording artist.

Not gold. Not titanium. But Rhodium.

(And because Rhodium’s so expensive,
that World Records award disc given to
Paul McCartney isn’t even solid Rhodium.)

So I guess it’s kind of interesting that
this expensive decorative jewelry addition
is also used to give our chewing gum
that excellent minty flavor. So yeah,
when you’re worrying about how money
can seem tight sometimes,
don’t worry about the jewelry.
Just pop a stick of mint chewing gum
in your mouth, thanks to Rhodium,
and realize that we all probably
don’t have it that bad after all.

Sodium, Periodic Table poem by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers


from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series

It’s funny that something
so common on this Earth,
the 6th most abundant element,
something so common
that it’s usually found
mixed with the ocean water…
It’s funny that something
so common on this Earth
was actually used as currency,
given to ancient Roman soldiers
in addition to their wages.
The English word for it
was even derived from “salary”,
derived from “salarium”
for the wafers for payment.
In Medieval times, “sodanum”
was used to relieve headaches.
And the element name
is probably derived
from the Arabic “suda”
for headache…
It is in the soaps we make,
and we add it to the food
we eat. It has been used
in making and bleaching paper,
it’s in water softeners,
it’s used in compounds
for industrial cleaners,
or even as a tissue dissolving agent.

It’s funny, how we have it
in kosher, iodized and rock forms
in our kitchen.

So I guess it’s fitting
that this silver-white element
(which does not occur in nature
but is derived from it’s compounds),
it’s amazing that
this abundant element
has been used in so many ways,
from creating soaps
to industrial cleaners
to even dissolving tissue…
To even flavoring our food.
In us animals, Sodium
is even needed for nerve impulses
generated in our cell membranes.
So yeah, it makes sense
that if Sodium’s so needed,
and Sodium’s so abundant,
we’d use it in as many compounds
as we possibly can
to make our lives better.