Rhenium poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#75, Re) from the Chicago poet Janet Kuypers

Rhenium,

Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#75, Re)
(started 8/7/14, written 8/8/14, finished 8/9/14)

Okay, so I’ve been researching
these elements in the Periodic Table,
and when I got to Rhenium
(named for the Rhine river, by the way),
I was kind of stumped.
What comes to your head
when you hear the word “Rhenium”?
Other than the fact that
“Rhenium” was an LP from Parliment
released in nineteen seventy,
I was stumped.

But hey, this element was named after the Rhine river
stretching through Europe,
but in ancient Greek Times,
they thought of the Rhine
as the outermost border
of civilization and reason,
beyond which were mythical creatures.
No lie.

But I don’t know if that mythical nature
of the unknown is what drove scientists
to search for this element,
and to learn everything they could
about what was otherwise unknown to them…

I mean, Mendeleev, the “creator”
as we know it of the Periodic Table,
postulated this element’s existence,
but it wasn’t found in his lifetime…
and it was later predicted
by an English physicist in 1913,
but it still hadn’t been discovered.

But people in different countries
claimed the discovery
through X-ray analysis,
but after a ton of dispute
this elusive element was finally found,
and as all scientists like to think,
this discovery has to mean something,
I mean, we have to use this discovery
for ssomething, so people
will appreciate our precious work!

Well they found out that Rhenium
(now that airplanes were being used more and more
by both vacationers and business travelers)
can be used with super alloys
to make jet engine parts
(well, I guess that’s cool
for the jet-setters out there…)
but, after people figured out
that putting lead in high-performance fuel
might not be good for the environment
(okay, or for people),
they found that Rhenium
could be a catalyst
for making lead-free
high-octane gasoline.

Since we now have means to travel faster and farther
(thanks to Rhenium in part, by the way),
we might not think of the Rhine as the edge of our existence
with anything beyond it being so mysterious.
But when it comes to Rhenium,
it’s one of the rarest elements in Earth’s crust
(I wonder if that’s why it took so long to discover it.)
Because of it’s radioactivity,
it’s used in the treatment of liver cancer
(and maybe pancreatic cancer too),
but with the skyrocketing price of this rare element,
scientists still worry about the potential toxicity of Rhenium.
So, maybe like the mythical creatures
beyond the Rhine the Greeks foretold,
maybe, after discovering Rhenium,
maybe we should be looking
at both the bad — and the good —
that can come out of the rare,
but radical,
and remarkable Rhenium.

Tritium, “Periodic Table of Poetry” bonus poem from Chicago poet Janet Kuypers

Tritium

Janet Kuypers

(Bonus poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series, molecule 3H
based on Hydrogen element #1, also known as hydrogen-3)
12/24/13

So my husband has this nice Fossil watch
that he wears only when we go out on nice dates now.
You see, he says he doesn’t need a watch
because he has his cell phone with him at all times,
and it always tells time in accordance with GPS.

But recently he broke down and bought another watch,
one that looks like a small child should wear it,
with a huge black band and face and neon glowing hands.

Lovely, I thought,
I thought just using the cell phone was bad enough.
So I asked about the glowing hands on his watch
(and thought about the original radium watch faces
painted by women who got cancer from radiation).
And he said no, the numbers and dials are covered in
Tritium.

And I thought, great,
another element that probably will leak
into people causing certain eventual death.
But he said no, this is safe, it’s only an isotope of hydrogen.

And I thought, oh…
So it’s just another boring element that we
Americans are using to try to make life easier
for people who grow tired of using their eyes.

I don’t think he liked my saying that.
So he said, wait a minute
(knowing how I seem to like learning about
Atomic bombs and World War Two and the like),
Tritium is used in the process of making the
Hydrogen bomb.

Hmmm.

So I read that Tritium for American nuclear weapons
was produced in special heavy water reactors.
But tritium undergoes radioactive decay
(ergo the glowing watch faces, I’d wonder,
though I’m sure he’s stress that there’s
no dangerous radioactivity in his watch –
oh wait, he said it’s “safe” radioactivity),
but Tritium’s used in “boosting”, increasing
the speed and yield of fission bombs.

And yeah, he was trying to get me to like
his child-like black glow-in-the-dark watch
by linking it with heavy water in WWII
and Hitler’s efforts to get the bomb first.
Scary to think that tactic might work with me,
but at least he’s trying to get me like
the watch that he chooses to wear.

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

Polonium

Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#084, Po)
including the poem “Eyes are Blurred to the Battlefield”
8/11/13

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
pounced.

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
Polonium-210-induced
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
Polonium

(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.

Lawrencium, Periodic Table poem by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers

Lawrencium

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.