Potassium Chloride, bonus poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series, ( based on Potassium, #19, K) from the Chicago poet Janet Kuypers

Potassium Chloride

Janet Kuypers

(bonus poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series, based on Potassium, #19, K)

Once worked for a company
who stopped selling their drugs
to state correctional facilities

who used them in cocktails
to kill their prisoners. The company
didn’t have the moral issue —

but religious and political
groups did, and companies
couldn’t justify selling drugs

as sedatives to hospitals
when those same drugs
were used to kill people.

Then I learned that in the cocktail,
pentobarbital was the sedative,
pavulon was the paralytic agent,

and Potassium Chloride killed them.
So I instantly remembered
that us humans need Potassium,

but nobody will sell supplements
because too much Potassium
could easily kill a person.

So, too much of an element
that we need for life
can kill us. Fascinating.

But it’s not straight Potassium
that they use in lethal injections,
it’s Potassium Chloride —

so I wondered, but why
is it not just straight Potassium?
That’s when I heard

that if you take Potassium straight
it would burn, so they use this
metal halide of Potassium with chlorine.

How nice of them, because it would
be cruel if prisoners were in pain
before we killed them. That would be

cruel of us.


More than a decade after my state
imposed a moratorium on executions,
then the death penalty was abolished.

And I know the death penalty
costs us taxpayers much more money
than keeping prisoners alive for life.

The death penalty’s not a deterrent,
and the death penalty does take
innocent lives from wrongful convictions.

But all that’s stuck in my head
right now is the Potassium Chloride,
things our body needs, to kills us.

I reflect on the late-night leg cramps
because we don’t get enough Potassium.
Chloride’s needed for metabolism,

and Potassium’s one of the most
important electrolytes in our body.
Still, too much of it can kill us.

It must, somehow, makes sense
that we humans take these elements
and use them as an instrument of death.

I’m afraid I know how us humans think,
of course. It makes perfect sense.

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


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#025, Mn)
(stemming from “Became a Jungle”, written 05/17/10,
with references to “Everything Lives With Her”, written 9/2/06)

I wanted plants around.

She always had plants around,
everything thrived with her.

Ever since she died
my home has become a jungle.

Let me have control over this.

Let me add water nearly daily
to the plant I bought when I visited her,
or to the tree she gave me years ago.

Add plant food to the water.
Because I don’t want anything to die.

Trim the dried leaves,
because they would remind me
that even nature misses her.

Keep plants near windows,
they need their light.
Their Manganese needs it
for their chlorophyll production.

Actually, their Manganese assimilates
the carbon dioxide in photosynthesis.

So breathe in our carbon dioxide
and give me more
of my precious oxygen,
so we can realize
how we depend on each other so.

Actually, I should stock up
on Manganese plant supplements.

I’ll make sure you get everything you need.
I’ll make sure nothing happens to you.

Potassium poem by Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series

Every once in a while, in the middle of the night,
I wake up in massive pain as one of my legs convulses,
and it feels like my leg’s in a vice grip
as my muscles cramp at me defiantly
until I attempt to stand to battle the pain,
while I hold on to my bed frame,
struggling until the pain ends.

And that’s when he tells me
“Leg cramps? You’re low on Potassium.
You should eat a banana every day.”
So if there are bananas in the house,
I’ll eat one the morning after one of those
leg cramp episodes,
because even though I’m a vegetarian,
I’m really not that fond of bananas.

So then I have to remind myself,
you need Potassium, and bananas
are apparently high in Potassium.

But wait, I take a multi-vitamin daily,
that has to have all the Potassium
I should never need.
So I read the label on my multi-vitamin jar,
scan for Potassium, and see
that it only has two percent of my USRDA…

Wait a minute… That doesn’t make sense.
So I look for Potassium supplement jars,
And as a rule they don’t exist.
(At first glance on line Potassium Hydroxide
is available after you fill out a hazmat waiver form,
and besides, Potassium Hydroxide is used for livestock,
and Potassium Chloride is an injectible for pets.)
And that’s when he tells me,
“Oh, they don’t sell supplements
of just Potassium,
because it’s toxic if you take too much,
So, since it’s a a health risk they won’t sell it.”
And all I could think
was that if I took a ton of multi-vitamins,
that would probably be toxic too…
So then in frustration I looked
to find the average amount
of Potassium in a banana.

It was three percent.

Really? Three percent?
That’s all I need to stop my leg from cramping at night?
Then why is the USRDA For Potassium so high?
And how bad for you can Potassium be
that they won’t put enough into multi-vitamins,
and they won’t even release it as a supplement?

Then while shopping, I looked at a flip-top sale can
of Chef Boyardee at Kmart for a dollar.
The can was for whole grain lasagna.
I looked at the back label
with the Nutrition Facts, and saw that it had
ninety-eight milligrams of Potassium,
which was twenty-eight percent

So even though there is a ton
of sugar and salt and fat
in a can of Chef Boyardee,
should I start shoveling down
that pre-processed pasta
instead of a banana
when my leg cramps at night?

I mean, if I can find a surplus of Potassium
in a pre-packaged can of Chef Boyardee Lasagna,
maybe I should look for Potassium
in other sales at the front of this local store….
So, let’s see. Jolly Ranchers don’t have Potassium.
Swedish Fish don’t have Potassium.
Willie Wonka Nerds don’t have Potassium.
Nestle Goobers don’t have Potassium.
A can of Green Giant Sweet Peas doesn’t have Potassium.
A bottle of Italian salad dressing doesn’t have Potassium.
A bag of rigatoni noodles doesn’t have Potassium.
And I really doubt I should be living off of cans
of Chef Boyardee whole wheat pasta lasagna.
(Besides, I think I’d be too afraid
to even eat lasagna from a can. Really.)

So I’m sorry, but I’m just trying to figure out
why you need Potassium in your diet so much
if I can’t even find it easily in foods…
And since they say bananas have Potassium,
I looked into it: since Potassium is needed
in all living cells, a depletion of Potassium in humans
can also lead to cardiac problems.
But from what I’ve found, Potassium is needed
in plant production, because it’s found
in many vegetables as well as fruits
(like bananas, I suppose). But the way we
mass farm now in this global economy,
it’s even leading to a depletion of Potassium
in the soil… And the thing is, Potassium
is usually found ionized in salts, meaning
that it’s water solubility gives Potassium
many chemicals in it’s ionized form…
(Which I suppose is good for us humans,
since we are over fifty percent water.)
And this is the weird part: because Potassium
is so water soluble, it is never actually
found as the pure elemental Potassium.
The English first called Potassium “Potash”
(derived from an old Dutch word for the way it was
extracted, after evaporating solution in a pot
to leave traces of Potassium like ash),
and was first primarily used in the production
of glass, bleach or soaps (which seems
totally fitting because of it’s water solubility).
Then a German researcher introduced
Potassium into fertilizers, which is awesome
for us humans who need Potassium for our cells,
so Potassium could be in all of our plants and fruits,
but now it seems due to our mass farming
that Potassium fertilizers won’t be enough,
especially when in this modern age
we usually opt for processed foods lacking
Potassium instead of fresh fruits and vegetables.

And yeah, because of it’s solubility with water,
it can react with some of the elements
like hydrogen (producing a ton of heat)
or halogen (detonating with a bromide),
or even have explosive reactions with sulphuric acid.

That just totally reminds me how Potassium,
like so many elements we need in our lives,
can also have terrible repercussions when mixed
in just the right way with just a select few elements…
Because if I can get Potassium into my body
in just the right — and natural — way,
maybe then I’ll stop having muscle spasms
at night, reminding me that I’m deficient
in the element that all my cells so desperately need.