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


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#52, Te)

When a couple is meant to be together
(but at their core they’re nothing alike),
you can see them come together almost violently,
before their anger pushes them away from each other.

Until they do it again, and again, and again.
It’s like they can’t stop. They can’t help it.

They rush to each other for a mad embrace,
they feel intense attraction that they can’t escape,
‘til they know despite their lust, they hate each other so,
and they do everything they can to break free.

It’s a sick cycle they’re stuck in.
This coming together. Then rushing apart.


There’s electricity in the air. I hear the buzz
whenever I walk by that street corner and see
all of the electrical wires, crossing in every direction —
I can hear the loose electricity jumping into the air.

Do you know why electric wires are spaced far apart
when they’re up high on poles like that? Well,
that’s because those Tellurium metal alloy wires
up high in the sky like that aren’t even insulated —

and they have a strong magnetic field with all that electricity
coursing through them. If wires were closer to each other
while up in the air, the wires would swing toward each other
because of their insanely strong magnetic attraction.

In being drawn to each other, an arc may form
between the wires, destroying them almost instantly.

But then again, magnetism in the wires switches polarity
a hundred and twenty times every second
(because ofelectricity’s sixty hertz frequency)…

That would make those wires want to repel each other
as often as they were magnetically drawn to each other.
So yes, for one hundred twenty times every second,
these wires would vibrate back and forth.

So if there’s no electric arc, these Tellurium metal
alloy wires would vibrate so intensely and violently,
that if they weren’t kept far apart
they would destroy each other, vibrating.


Tellurium is used in alloys with steel
to make high-strength conductors.
Abundant cosmically but rare on Earth,
it’s often found combined with gold:

in the first gold rush, this mix looked like waste,
so they used it to fill potholes or sidewalks.
Once they realized it was Tellurium and gold,
there was a second gold rush…

Acute poisoning with Tellurium is rare;
most organisms tolerate Tellurium.
Organic tellurides have antioxidant activity.
and can even be used to identify pathogens

responsible for diphtheria.
It’s optical refraction makes it perfect for glass.
It’s been used in color ceramics,
and gives rubber heat resistance,

In copper, iron, lead or stainless steel,
it makes the metals more machinable,
improving solar cell efficiency and electric
power generation, so it helps any energy.

I don’t know,
maybe that explains why
we’ve been feeling
this electricity in the air.

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


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry”” series (#51, Sb)

It’s actually quite unremarkable.
It doesn’t seem to have much use.

But Antimony seemed to
cause a long and bitter war
in the sixteen hundreds
between France and Germany.

Wars are started over land,
religion, love, or money.
But the element Antimony?

Well, doctors in that age
believed in the medicinal value
of Antimony, and the war
was the war of the pen,
with opposing views
on Antimony’s medicinal value.
The two sides took up literary arms,
writing scathing reports
in medical journals
with the vitriol
of a Jerry Springer show
where the bodyguards
couldn’t even control the feud.

And the scary thing
is that Antimony is actually toxic…

But still,
Greek physicians
recommended Antimony
for skin complaints
in the first century A.D.,
and since that age,
many still championed Antimony
for medicinal purposes…
In fact, in Germany
a man (under the false name
of a fifteenth century monk
named Basil Valentine)
wrote an entire book
about Antimony remedies,
published in sixteen oh four.
And he claimed that alchemy
could free Antimony
of it’s toxicity:
just because it makes you vomit,
means that it helps your body
remove the toxins that ail you.

The Egyptians even
used Antimony
as a form of mascara —
they called the toxic
Antimony sulfide stibnite
a black eye powder
called “kohl”.

Later, Al-Qaeda chemists
called this substance
Al-Kohl, which came to be
a term to mean any powder,
which led to a sixteen hundreds
Swiss alchemist
to call a distilled extract
of wine “alcool vini”
(which shows the trail
from toxic eye make-up
to intoxicating “alcohol”).

But this fondness for Antimony
lasted through the centuries,
as doctors still prescribed it’s use
through the seventeen hundreds.
It has even been suggested
that Antimony “remedies”
may have been
what actually killed Mozart.

Maybe they caught on
to Antimony
by the next century,
because it became
the element of choice
for murderers looking to cause
a slow painful death
to their victims.

We use Antimony now
only in alloys for batteries,
or maybe to harden lead.
But it’s strange,
that Antimony can have
such a violent history,
dipping it’s hand into everything
from make-up to medicines,
to the later naming of “alcohol”,
to poisoning people.
I guess when people don’t know
all the chemical conditions,
Antimony can lead
a colorful history indeed…