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.

Fluorine poem by Janet Kuypers


by Janet Kuypers

of Scars Publications
from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series

Just got a postcard from my dentist
telling me it’s time to schedule
another dental appointment.
I thought about the fluoride toothpaste
I just changed to, and then
I wondered about water fluoridation,
the government adds fluoride
to public water supplies, you know,
to reduce tooth decay and hopefully
prevent cavities. Hmmm,
how much water would I have to drink
so I wouldn’t have to go to the dentist
so regularly?
Wait a minute, I just read that
for the fluoride to work, it has to remain
in contact with the teeth, so fluoride ions
that are swallowed won’t help.

Maybe I should just gargle with water more.

But fluoride is just one of the ionic compounds
of Fluorine, and I thought it was funny
when I found out that the name
for the mineral fluorite is derived
from the Latin word “flow”,
because it was added to metals
to make them flow.

Kind of like water, I suppose,
which we now add flourine to.

But you know, it’s not just teeth
that Fluorine can help…
I mean check this out,
Because of the stability
of the carbon-fluorine bond,
many drugs are fluoridated
to stop their metabolism
and prolong their half-lives
(I always wondered how they made
time-release drugs work..)
And now over twenty percent
of commercial drugs use Fluorine.
I mean, scientists have even used
the radioactive isotope fluorine-18
when performing PET scans —
and it’s amazing that liquid fluorocarbons
can hold gas in solution,
and can even hold
more oxygen and carbon
that our own blood…

Wow, I didn’t realize
how useful Fluorine was
for helping humans out.

But the thing is,
Fluorine’s actually really toxic,
some isotopes are used for insecticides,
and Fluorine attacks the eyes,
lungs, liver and kidneys,
and Hydrofluoric acid
is a pretty nasty contact poison.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
have even been strictly regulated
through international agreements
for fear of our environment
and the depletion of the Ozone…
I mean, the U.S. Government
even has a slew of signs
for the dangers of this element:
It’s a toxic gas.
It’s corrosive.
It’s an inhalation hazard.
(wait a minute,
I thought it was so good for me,
how can it also be so bad?)

So too much of Flourine
in the right way
can be devastating for you,
and in other ways
it can help your bones
or help your medication.
Fascinating. I guess this is another way
we have learned to take
the bad with the good
(or is it that we have learned
to take the good out of the bad?).

Maybe I won’t start to gargle with water
because of the Fluorine,
and maybe I should just deal
with everyone’s inherent fear
of the dentist, and just go,
and come out of it
with cleaner teeth
for the next six months…