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


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#084, Po)
including the poem “Eyes are Blurred to the Battlefield”

On the Indonesian island Jawa
large turtle skeletons
litter the plains,

because after the turtles
came in from the ocean
to lay their eggs,

swarms of wild dogs there
got together and

Those wild dogs flipped the turtles over,
and stripped them completely
from their shells

before they ate them alive.

Because we have to remember
that life is a constant
avoidance of death:

since later on, many of those wild dogs
who killed the turtles
were prey to the tiger,

who later pounced upon them.
This is the cycle of life,
because every birth

is a prelude to death.
Remember this.
Don’t forget.


Keep in mind that elemental Polonium
changes in a nuclear reactor
to form Polonium-210…

Because the former Russian agent
Alexander Litvinenko
was the first man

to be poisoned to death from lethal
acute radiation.

So yes, because life is a prelude to,
and a constant avoidance
of death,

this Polonium-210 poisoning marked
the beginning of an era
of nuclear terrorism.


I know, I know, this is only
a part of Polonium,
and they found

that Polonium’s electrical conductivity
changes with it’s temperature,
making it perfect

for eliminating static electricity.
And because of it’s
short half-life,

it’s decay generates heat, so it’s a
convenient and light source
to generate

thermo-electric power in space
satellites and lunar stations —
because it’s great

that for space no moving parts
are required for power
from Polonium.

Yes, I know it’s radioactive,
Marie Curie discovered

(named for her homeland Poland),
she even coined the phrase
“radioactivity” while

working. She even worked so diligently
that on her own wedding day
she wore a black dress —

because she could then wear it
for the work she later
had to do.


Marie Curie wore a black dress
to her own wedding;
maybe she knew

that life is a constant avoidance
of death. Life is just
a prelude to death,

because though Polonium otherwise
seems like a relatively
harmless element,

Polonium-210 can still be used
as just the right element
for nuclear terrorism.


With Polonium, there’s much to learn.
Because when alloyed,
it can be

a portable neutron source, Polonium
is even used in making
photographic plates.

But then again, Polonium’s
the only component
of cigarette smoke

found in lab rats to produce cancer.
Polonium was produced
in World War II’s

Manhattan Project — it was even
part of the design of the
Fat Man bomb

on Nagasaki. Yeah, Polonium
has many good qualities
to us humans,

but kep in mind that life is still
a constant avoidance
of death.

So despite what good we look for
in Polonium, this element
can also be

the instrument of death.
Remember this.
Don’t forget.

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


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#100, Fm)
including the poem “Each Half is the Enemy”

When the bulldog ant of Australia
is cut in half,
the halves see each other as enemies.

The head attempts to devour the tail.
And the tail,
in an effort to defend itself,

battles for up to thirty minutes
to sting the head.
And this battle happens everywhere

in the world, because life is always
that battle
between the two halves of the whole.


Because everything contains that twin,
one part good,
and one part you’ve construed into something

so horribly wrong. And you want to tear it apart,
that other half,
you despise everything about it —

everything that somehow is a part
of you.
So you, in life, always possess that battle.


This even applies on a molecular level.
Consider hydrogen:
it’s in our water we drink and bathe in,

and atomically, we’re sixty-seven percent
But on November first nineteen fifty two,

“Ivy Mike” was the code name
for the first
successful test of the hydrogen bomb.

It’s funny how we can take something
so needed for our life
and, like our sun, turn it into something

to destroy everything we know.
Because as I said,
one side gives life, the other kills.


And thanks to “Ivy Mike” and that
hydrogen bomb,
two elements were discovered —

one of them was named after physicist
Enrico Fermi.
You see, Fermi worked on “Chicago Pile-1,”

the first nuclear reactor. Fermi worked
in a space
under Chicago University’s then unused

football stadium bleachers. That’s because
the school
had not used the football stadium

for three years, because the school
thought sports
were a distraction from academics.

Fermi, “the father of the atomic bomb”.
also worked
on the Manhattan project, and Fermilab

outside of Chicago was named after him.
And here’s the kick:
the hydrogen device that produced

Fermium was designed by Richard Garwin,
Enrico Fermi’s student.
So for all that Enrico Fermi had done,

it seems fitting that Fermium is
the heaviest
element formed by the nuclear

bombardment of lighter elements
(like hydrogen).
And this highly radioactive element

was initially kept secret due to the
cold war.
But it’s amazing what we can discover

while taking something we so need
for life,
and turning it into an instrument of death.


Because Fermium was classified
in the cold war,
Swiss scientists bombarding oxygen,

discovering an isotope if it, and wanted
to name it
centurium (to honor element one hundred).

Good thing Fermi’s nuclear work got
declassified, so they
could honor Enrico Fermi with “Fermium”.

But wait, Fermium is bad, it’s radioactive,
there can’t be
any good applications for it…

Well, consider the two sides of any twin:
Fermium’s the only
element that can use it’s alpha particles

in radio therapy for cancer. And yes,
it’s radioactive,
but it’s short half life means it decays

quickly. Because as I said, it’s amazing
how two sides
can be both bad, and also so good.

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


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#094, Pu)

Now, I know they named the element Plutonium
after the at-the-time newly-discovered planet,
but I can’t help but wonder
if any of those scientists
who deal with Plutonium now
feel slighted that the planet
was demoted to a planetoid.

But if these scientists care at all about astronomy,
they have to feel consoled
that, at least, their element Plutonium
is used with the element Neptunium
when extracted from spent nuclear fuel rods
And Neptunium is a by-product in production.

Added bonus, if this element’s namesake
was named after an icy ball at the edge of our
solar system, at least now the element can hang
and work with the element Neptunium,
which, like that element’s namesake Neptune,
is a bit of a gas giant itself.
Fermi discovered Plutonium,
and the silvery-white element
(looking not unlike an ice ball)
was even originally used
in weapon design in the Manhattan Project…

Because you know, even if the planet Pluto
is really just an icy ball from the Kuiper Belt,
at least in the Periodic Table
Pluto“nium” can at least hang out once again
with it’s once astronomical brother Neptun“ium”
and feel important again.