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


by Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#58, Ce)
including the poem “Jumping from the Skyline to the Clouds”

Joining commuters driving
toward the Chicago Loop,

I watched majestic skyscrapers
frame the skyline,

as I witnessed over Lake Michigan
early morning clouds —

thin at the top, each cloud looked
like a snow-capped mountain,

framing this flat-land city, and
surrounding the skyscraper skyline…

But all those clouds
were only formed in the mornings

by the early morning weather,
pulling water daily from Lake Michigan.

When the water from the lake
is warmer than the dew point,

water rises until the air is cold enough
so that lake water forms those clouds.

But the thing is, Lake Michigan
is more than hydrogen and oxygen —

at times they even warn the public
to not go into the unsafe water

(the same water Chicago filters
for everyone to shower in, or drink).

So I checked some of the studies
on what foreign compounds

Lake Michigan actually contains —
at times you can find everything

from cadmium, mercury, lead or zinc,
to copper, chromium, even selenium.

That list included harmful elements,
but the numbers that were really

off the charts came from Cerium.
Cerium acts like calcium

in the human body, and you can
find a lot of Cerium in tobacco plants —

and with Cerium’s moderate toxicity,
prolonged exposure can lead to

itching, heat sensitivity or skin lesions.
And wait a minute, Cerium can

spontaneously ignite if the air
is hot, and you may be thinking

that if Cerium’s in water it should
be safe, but water can’t be used

to stop a Cerium fire, since Cerium
reacts with water to make hydrogen gas.

Well, if Cerium fire fumes are toxic,
then so much for Lake Michigan being

good for you — even when Chicago
has multiple water purification plants.

Because Cerium in the water
that forms those morning clouds

is one thing, but no matter the toxicity
of Cerium, remember that us humans

are over seventy percent water.
With all the compounds

that Cerium goes into,
it’s probably best if Cerium’s left

to it’s industrial uses, instead
of working it’s way in our water…

And besides, it’s nice to think
that those beautiful morning clouds

framing the Chicago skyline
with snow-capped mountains

are actually more than just hydrogen
and oxygen, because every once

in a while, look at that morning sky.
Because in just the right way,

a little Cerium
can really go a long way.

Chromium poem by Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series

Closing the door
to my stainless steel refrigerator,
I thought about the popularity
of stainless steel;
everyone wants to get
stainless steel fronts
for all of their kitchen appliances.
Costs more at the store,
but that’s the price for looking good.

So I thought, stainless steel,
okay, what is that, iron?
But my wrought iron bed frame
and sets of candle holders
are pretty much black,
some of it’s rusting,
so what do they do
to make this iron a shiny,
different kind of metal?

I looked online
and the answer
was 24.
Not 42, not the meaning of life,
but the atomic number.

You know, when I turned 24 at work,
our rep from our press called me,
and I told him it was my birthday.
So he asked me how old I was,
and I said 42.
He sounded surprised, so I told him,
“Oh, you didn’t ask me
how old I felt.
I’m 24.”

But really, chromium
is atomic element number 24,
and to make stainless steel
they add over ten percent
of chromium to the iron to form
a steel alloy that doesn’t corrode.
(Good thing
my refrigerator
won’t rust…)

So maybe it’s the
magnetic properties of chromium
that make this metal so appealing
to people now…
But this protective element
has protected weaponry
from Chinese dynasties
thousands of years ago,
so the Chinese knew,
even then,
that coating things with
this magnetic metallic element
would stop corrosion.

I mean, we’ve all heard
of things that are
chrome plated, right?
Chromium not only makes things
last longer, but
chromium is also known for
its luster when polished —
which really makes
for a great sell.
Just go to any hangout
for motorcyclists,
probably on any summer
Sunday morning,
and see the parked line-up
of one motorcycle after another,
each outdoing each other
with decorative chrome plating…

But then I thought…
Chromium’s even used
as chrome yellow dye
for school buses…
Chromium salts are used
for wood preservatives
and tanning leather…
The refractory applications
of chromium even work
for blast furnaces, cement kilns,
molds for the firing of bricks
and also for the casting of metals.

I guess chromium can really
extend the life
of what we see around us…
So I guess it’s fitting
that when my birthday
coincided with this element,
I jokingly said
that the number in question
was actually the answer
to life, the universe,
and everything…