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.

Bromine, Periodic Table poem by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#35, Br)

You’ve stopped the fire in me.
Oh, the zone you’ve tried to pull,
leaving a stench in your wake.

You wanted to stop my shaking.
You wanted to sedate me.
But I’ve learned better —
        you’re just so unsafe
that no one thinks you’re good.

You’ve been so corrosive to me,
and I know I haven’t seen you around,
but I’ve been trying to tell you:

You have no purpose for me.

The only thing you may be good for
is killing the vermin around me,
but at this point in the game
I’d rather keep things living,
so please, keep your distance.

Your toxicity depresses me,
and when you sneak into my drink
you cloud everything instead.

You think you make things
but trust me, that argument
is not enough for me.

So please, don’t poison me.
Please, don’t burn me.
Just let me get some fresh air again
and get you away from me for good.

Magnesium poem by Janet Kuypers

Magnesium (#012, Mg)

Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series

All this time,
I’ve only known you from afar.

Every once in a while,
I’d see you in the distance
while I was driving down the street.

I may have seen you
only eleven times in my life,
and I know a part of you
is essential in all of my living cells,
but as I said,
I’ve only seen you from afar.

Once, I saw you
outside my bedroom window
after the first snowfall
covered the land in a blanket of white.
That’s when I saw you
walking outside alone,
looking for your next meal.

I know you can leave
me with a sour taste,
but I know you are needed
and it aches me to see you suffer so.

I think I saw you with your children
as I sat out on the balcony
of a father’s house —
I watched you in the distance,
but I didn’t watch you alone.
After a while
someone said to me
that you looked peaceful,
but at another time
they would have shot
and killed you instead.

As I said,
I only see you from afar,
so I try to learn
of how you were created
from such large places,
at temperatures higher
than anything we could imagine.

I tried to learn,
because one day
I was told to go outside,
and that’s when I saw you
laying down among the trees,
never to walk away
from my home again.

I’ve always only
seen you from afar,
and suddenly,
as you lay there,
I could see your organs
shriveled and sunken in
after your skin
had pulled away
as you wasted away.
I could see traces
from your capillaries,
and I could trace
your rib cage,
outline your spine.

I know the heat that created you.
I know you’re highly flammable,
and I know that when you start to burn
you’re impossible to stop.
You fire bombed
in World War Two,
and the only way
they could stop you
was by dumping dry sand on you,
because you’d burn through the air,
and you’d even burn under water.

That’s why you’ve been used
in fireworks and in flares.
That’s why you’ve been used
for illumination and flashes
in photography.

So they call this
momento mori,
I thought,
when I grabbed my camera
to photograph you
in your final resting place.
even though
I’ve seen you,
I’ve needed you, and
I’ve known the damage
you can do,
I needed to photograph you
right then and there.
I’m sorry.
I needed to
remember you this way.