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…

Einsteinium poem by Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series

Einstein understood
that everything was relative…

Why did he have to worry
about brushing his hair
or changing out of his pajamas
when he was busy grappling
with the foundations of phyics?

And once he fathomed
the relationship
between matter and energy,
once he understood
the interconnectivity
between matter and energy —

he suddenly understood,
after this Jewish physicist
left his home in Germany,
that Hitler and the Third Reich
could be working on an atomic bomb,
converting so little matter
into so much devastating energy.

At this time, he understood
the need for Roosevelt
to create this weapon
so the Germans wouldn’t destroy us.

The gravity of this discovery
in the hands of evil men
weighed him down,
and even months
before he died,
Einstein wrote
that although the devastation
in Hiroshima and Nagasaki
seemed unfathomably horrific
and he regretted writing
that letter to Roosevelt,
his justification
was the threat of Germany.
When he wrote that letter,
he still had to appeal to Roosevelt,
that yes, to save us from Germany,
this weapon needed to be created.

Knowing about his torment
in making this decision
to ask for the creation
of the atomic bomb,
makes it so ironically beautiful
that after scientists
discovered an element
after the first explosion
of the hydrogen bomb,
they named the element Einsteinium
after the physicist.


Einsteinium is a silvery-white,
radioactive, synthetic element
with a high fission rate,
like the atomic bombs
Einstein first knew of
when fearing his homeland enemy.
But because of the short half-life
of all isotopes of Einsteinium,
all primordial Einsteinium
has decayed by now,
and beyond it’s nuclear creation,
there is almost no use
for any isotope of Einsteinium
outside of basic scientific research…

Which makes me think of the
life of Albert Einstein, I suppose,
for although Einstein worked
at odd jobs for years
until he was a patent examiner,
his mind was only good at one thing:
doing not-so-basic scientific research,
solving scientific fundamental puzzles,
if only he had the time
to study the puzzle long enough.

photos of Janet Kuypers and Albert Einstein with their tongues sticking out