White Phosphorus, poem from the “Periodic Table of poetry” series by Chicago Poet Janet Kuypers

White Phosphorus

Janet Kuypers

Bonus poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series, #15, P

Seeing bombs from Viet Nam
and the white smoke rising —
with each bomb exploding,
I knew
that smoke…
It was Willie Pete,
white Phosphorus —
you couldn’t put it out
once it started burning.
This stuff would
destroy the forests
foreign to our
U.S. troops.

I know you can’t understand.
But I wanted you to know
that I haven’t felt close
to anyone
or anything
in years.

It sounds sick,
but seeing that footage,
seeing that white smoke
from that file footage,
it brought it all back to me.
It brought the emotions
flooding back to me
like it was yesterday.

Everything that seems
so volatile
about that war,
in a way
has become a part of me,
right down to my DNA.
You look at your tv screen
and think it makes no sense,
It’s a part of me.
I know I’m old now,
I know it’s only
a small part of me,
but I know I need it.
I can’t explain why,
but I do.

When you see the destruction
of Willie Pete…
Yeah, we knew what it was,
white Phosphorus,
but all of us called it that,
it was just easier
to say it then,
When you see the destruction
of that white Phosphorus,
you think of it
on some existential level,
like “oh, violence is bad,”
but when I see those
bombs going off,
and when I think of
what it was like
to live in that war,
that Willie Pete —
that white Phosphorus —
to us, that was our key
to getting through that hell.
You can’t understand,
but that
was the closest we had
to getting out alive.

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…

Molybdenum, Periodic Table poem by Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#035;042, Mo)

I love this country.
We should protect our rights.

Gotta love
our military-

We gotta protect ourselves —

I’ll use everything I can
to be the one on top.

I know I’ve used you,

but it was wartime,
you gotta understand.

You gave me speed,

You were light on your feet,
but stiff as a board.

When things got hot,
you stood up to anything.

and I liked flexing my muscles with you.

I know it was wartime,

but I would have
made a Japanese sword outa you,

if I coulda put you together right.

And I know, I know,
you say I need you
for all my amino acids

to keep my innerds running,

but I’m still on my war-kick here,

‘cause when it’s war time,
that’s when I need you most.

People say that war’s no good,

but I say
you’re the meaning of life.

I love the U. S. of A.,

and with you by my side,
we can shove a boot up their ass —

it’s the American way.