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.

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.

Helium Addicition poem by Janet Kuypers

Helium Addicition (#002, He)

Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series

Since I lost my job welding cars,
I thought I’d get my truck driving license
And make my money on the open road.

So when I applied for the truck driving job
for moving compressed Helium from California
to Maine, they asked if I could drive a truck…

When I said I could, they gave me the keys —
and the truck’s a beaut, with a bed
of nine cylinders of that precious Helium.

I hear there’s only so much Helium on Earth,
so I really had some precious cargo to haul.
Now, since I love driving and know how to weld…

I rented the tools and bought the tubing,
and after Arizona I had my rig set up
so I could do Helium hits while on the road.

I mean, I had nine huge tanks of Helium,
all compressed, it was like worker’s comp. You
can always skim off the top, they won’t notice.

Now, this made New Mexico and Texas really fun,
and I ignored the winds sweeping down the plains
of Oklahoma when I had my Helium.

But after Missouri, through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio,
the cops always pulled me over for erratic driving
(but I can’t let go of this Helium high!).

The cops would ask me for paperwork,
and I would happily comply. “You seem to be
driving erratically. Have you slept recently?”

“Yes sir, I’m just so excited, I love this job.”
And the cops looked at me funny before
writing me a warning and sending me on my way.

So I’d always look at my clock radio
and limit my Helium puffs to every time
I saw a good looking seat cover in a passing car —

but the hotties were few and far
between, so I’d check my clock radio
and puffed every seven minutes.

So when my Helium high subsided after only
seven seconds, and I still have seven states
before I could deliver my remaining Helium —

well, that’s when I drove north instead,
to go through Michigan, and leave my life —
and this country — with my precious.

And yeah, I’ll miss my family and friends,
but I’ve only scratched the surface
with my nine lives of Helium, and really,

that Helium high is really worth the world.