Niobium, “Periodic Table of Poetry” poem from Chicago poet Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#041, Nb)
started 7/5/13, finished 7/6/12

Niobium’s name is derived
from Greek Mythology,
from the woman Niobe,
daughter of Tantalus…

(and yes, there’s an element
Tantalum, and he’s
directly below her in the
Periodic Table, and it’s hard
to tell them apart sometimes…)

But after Niobe had more children
(seven sons and seven daughters),
and because Niobe felt she had
more prominent stature,
she asked,
“My father was a guest
at the table of the Gods.
My husband built and rules
this city. I have seven sons and
seven daughters worthy of pride.
You revere gods and goddesses
you cannot even see, but
aren’t I worthy
of goddess worship?”

Well, sounding a bit too haughty
to everyone in town,
the god Artemis
and her twin sister Apollo
used arrows for their vengeance —
Artemis killed Niobe’s daughters
Apollo killed Niobe’s sons.
I don’t know is any were spared,
but according to mythology,
when Niobe’s husband saw their dead sons,
he killed himself in grief and despair.
After losing everything.
Niobe fled to Mount Sipylus.
As she wept,
she was turned to stone,
and to this day
there is a natural rock formation there
that resembles a woman’s face,
and rainwater pours
through the porous limestone.
They call this the “Weeping Rock”
in honor of Niobe.

And sure,
Niobium is in chemicals
that are water soluble,
and Niobium is used
in superconducting magnets
(probably like how Niobe
had so many children,
and how everyone was drawn
to her beautiful face,
as she was always
resplendently adorned
in gold and jewels —
through I doubt she had
metal jewelry
made out of Niobium,
even though it turns
to a beautiful blue
when exposed to air).

Niobium is mixed with steel
to make it stronger —
since the Niobium in metal
is also more resistant to heat,
it can be used in anything
from jet engines,
to liquid rocket thrusters
for outer space.
(And as a funny twist, Niobium
is even in the main engine
of the Apollo Lunar Modules.)

You know, Niobium is often used
in commemorative coins,
with gold and silver.
So who knows,
maybe Niobe did have
Niobium in her jewelry,
as everyone admired
her beauty —
until she lost it all.

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…

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.