Mercury poem by Janet Kuypers

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Mercury

Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series

Loving astronomy,
I’ve always looked for images
from outer space.
My computer desktop background
and screen saver images
are NASA and Hubble telescope images.
Near my desk I keep a poster
of the planets,
and I’ve tried to find miniature globes
all all of the planets
for my living room.
Saturn. Jupiter, and four of it’s moons.
Mars. Our moon.
Too many globes of Earth.
The weather patterns of Venus.
Even a W-map of the universe
just after the Big Bang.
But planets like Neptune,
the farthest from the sun,
and Mercury,
the closest to the sun,
(speeding at over one and a half times
the speed of Earth’s orbit),
those globes are hard to find.

Mercury’s eccentric orbital speed
changes throughout it’s fast orbit,
with the fitting, fast-moving name
of the Roman messenger god.
They equated the planet with the Greek Hermes,
because it moves across the sky
faster than any other planet.
Mercury’s astronomical symbol
as a stylized version of Hermes’ caduceus.
The symbol for the planet Mercury
is even used to represent the element…

We can’t land anything on Mercury
because of it’s hostile environment,
like the volatility of the liquid element
(the only liquid element considered a mineral).
People shy away from using Mercury
in thermometers any longer
because the toxic mercury can leak.

Historically they tried to use mercury
for mirrors (they use silver now),
and ancient cultures used cosmetics
containing the poisonous mercury
that often disfigured women’s faces.
Ah, the ways women hurt themselves
to make themselves beautiful —
you can still find mercury
(you know, because it stays liquid)
in eyelash mascara.

Putting a toxic element so close to your eyes,
that sounds like a good idea…

Then again, someone just told me
that doctors used to give mercury
antibiotic eye drops to babies
just after birth,
to prevent eye infections
from Gonorrhea / Chlamydia bacteria.

Ah, the many ways
we can use toxins
to supposedly help us.

We want to learn about the planet Mercury?
We send unmanned ships through space
to photograph Mercury as much as we can,
remotely check the atmosphere levels,
the temperature, the speed.
We use mercury in our make-up,
mercury is used in dental amalgams.
Mercury has also been used
in traditional Chinese medicine,
and we used mercury in thermometers
to regulate our temperature,
and used it in blood pressure devices.

Because, we want to learn,
and we want to do anything,
to use anything to our own ends,
no matter how toxic.