Smelling Sulphur on Nine One One, “Periodic Table of Poetry” poem by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers

Smelling Sulphur on Nine One One

Janet Kuypers

bonus poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#016 S)

I’m a journalist.
I can remember
the sounds of the newsroom
as I finished my articles
at one of the computers.
I can still hear
the sounds of the bustling,
of the rushing toward a deadline.

The shuffling of papers
was a constant presence
when you worked.

Hearing that low hum,
that din of action and activity
is almost comforting
to types like us.
It was the base beat
to the symphony of our lives.

So, when you hear the words
nine one one,
you think of the number to dial
when you hear of more gun violence
on these Chicago streets.
You smell the Sulfur
in the gunpowder,
another sense
that accentuates the center
of the world around us…

But on a beautifully
sunny day like today,
you come into the newsroom
in the early morning,
and the sound of action
has yet to truly penetrate the ears
of these reporters,
with a styrofoam coffee cup in one hand,
crumpled pages of edited copy in the other.

But on this sunny morning,
the din was different,
much more cacophonous,
much more rushed,
while still so hushed.
I made my way
to one of the TV sets
along the main wall,
all were on different channels
showing different bits of news,
though all suddenly seemed the same.
It looked like the newsroom
was watching a movie
as smoke poured
from one of the Twin Towers.
I tried to make out the voices
from one of the TV sets
when I witnessed a plane —
right before my eyes —
fly into the other Tower.

I stood for a moment,
transfixed like some
horror movie addict,
before I thought of our contacts
scattered along the east coast.
I pulled out my cell phone
and speed dialed Mark in New York,
he had a meeting scheduled
in the Twin Towers that morning,
but the phone was jammed,
so I dialed up Don
who was in town there this week,
but all was lost
to computer-simulated voices,
forcing me to leave messages
and scramble from afar.

As pathetic as we were,
we stared at TVs
as most forms of communication
were cut off for us.
Was this an attack on New York,
we struggled to discover
until less than forty minutes later
we saw the two-second long film
replayed repeatedly
from a D.C. security camera
that caught a collision course
crashing of a plane
through the outer rings
of the Pentagon.

Now the story has changed.

Try to get through
to Dan in D.C.,
was he in the Pentagon today.
The phones still cut me off.
So we scrambled for any data,
looking for a Chicago connection:
the Sears Tower,
the John Hancock building,
these are national icons
that may be under attack…
But before we could gain our bearings,
only twenty-five minutes passed
before a plane crashed
into the ground
near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Shanksville, I thought,
I know someone there,
I searched, and found
Anna’s number,
but who was I kidding.
Those lines were cut off too.


It’s a strange feeling,
being a reporter
and not being able
to contact a single person.
Being detached from any lead,
coupled with a sinking feeling,
wondering if any
of the people you know
are physically hurt,
or even alive.

As a journalist,
you really feel hopeless,
like your hands are tied
behind your back.

We give the news.
We’re not supposed
to feel so stranded.


An hour after
the Pentagon was attacked,
the Sears Tower was evacuated.
This wasn’t my beat;
I had no contacts, no one
to help me through this disaster,
so I waited there
in case others
needed any assistance.

I sat back for a moment,
left there to wait,
thinking about
Mark and Don in New York,
Dan in D.C.,
even poor Anna —
I’m sure she’s not hurt,
but they’re now cut off to me.
As I said,
all I could do
was wait.

Clear your head of the people,
I could hear myself
say to myself.
You’re a reporter,
just break down the details
of what you see
instead of thinking of this
as another one of your
human interest articles…

The jet fuel,
the drywall,
all that paper
in those offices,
those people,
they’re all
hydrogen, carbon, oxygen.
But wait a minute,
in Chicago I think
of the Sulfur smell
when it comes to gunfire.
But jet fuel is Sulfur-laden,
that burning drywall
emits Sulfur gas,
Sulfur’s even the third most common
mineral in the human body.

I mean,
I’m a newspaper reporter.
I know that Sulfur-based compounds
are used in pulp
and paper industries.


Yeah, I’m a newspaper reporter.
Just take a breath
and turn your head to the stats.

To clear my head
of the humanity,
the thought of so much Sulfur
being so much a part
of so many details in our lives,
made me think
of the destruction
that Sulfur was so much
a part of today.
I know I stayed here
to give a helping hand,
but with all that Sulfur
on my mind,
all I could smell
was the burning,
and I couldn’t stop coughing
while I tried to catch my breath.

Darmstadtium, poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#110, Ds)
started 10/14/13, finished 10/15/13

Element one one zero
in the periodic Table,
originally didn’t have a name,
so when the scientists
gave a space-filler name
to element one one zero
they gave props
to the Greeks and Latins
by calling it

I’m sure it’s said
oon – un – nil – ee – um,
or maybe oon – un – neel – ee – um,
but knowing a thing or two
about the town of Darmstadt
during the Nazi regime,
I’m tempted to call it
oon – un – nile – ee um.

Oon – un-nihliate.
Get that heavy water
into the hands
of Nazi Germany,
and you’ll understand
the word play.


When Nazis took power in Germany,
Darmstadt was the first city
to even force Jewish shops to close.

German scientists knew
they could use “heavy water”
in an effort to make a nuclear bomb…
And when the allies bombed
the Nazis in nineteen forty-three
the air raid forced Nazis to move
all of their “heavy water”
to Germany for protection
(at places like Darmstadt,
where the super-heavy element
Darmstadtium was later discovered).

Then again, prominent members
of the German resistance
against the Nazis
were citizens of Darmstadt.

And Darmstadt is where the
big German accelerator is situated…
The GSI Heavy Ion Research Centre
is in Darmstadt, and elements
are discovered there
(like Darmstadtium). You see,
they had to make Darmstadtium
in this big machine
just to discover it, because
this synthetic element
isn’t even present
in the environment at all.
I mean, we’ve only been able
to make just a few atoms
of the super-heavy Darmstadtium…

But then again,
from what we could tell,
it’s insanely radioactive,
has an insanely short half life,
and no stable isotopes.
With all going against the nature
of Darmstadtium, it’s no wonder
that there isn’t even much concern
over guessing it’s potential physical
and chemical properties.

With such a short half life,
there’s no point in wondering
about the effect it might have
on the human body
or even on the environment,
because it just instantly decays
into lighter elements instead.

With such a short half life,
we’d have to slow down time itself
to even confirm it’s potential
silvery-white luster.

Hmmm, slowing down time itself.
Maybe that’s what we’d have to do
to learn a thing or two
about you,
Because with your
history of instability,
with such short amounts of you
creating only a flash of damage,
we’ll let others wonder
about the potential for
before we truly
learn a thing
or two.