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.

Mercury poem by Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series

Loving astronomy,
I’ve always looked for images
from outer space.
My computer desktop background
and screen saver images
are NASA and Hubble telescope images.
Near my desk I keep a poster
of the planets,
and I’ve tried to find miniature globes
all all of the planets
for my living room.
Saturn. Jupiter, and four of it’s moons.
Mars. Our moon.
Too many globes of Earth.
The weather patterns of Venus.
Even a W-map of the universe
just after the Big Bang.
But planets like Neptune,
the farthest from the sun,
and Mercury,
the closest to the sun,
(speeding at over one and a half times
the speed of Earth’s orbit),
those globes are hard to find.

Mercury’s eccentric orbital speed
changes throughout it’s fast orbit,
with the fitting, fast-moving name
of the Roman messenger god.
They equated the planet with the Greek Hermes,
because it moves across the sky
faster than any other planet.
Mercury’s astronomical symbol
as a stylized version of Hermes’ caduceus.
The symbol for the planet Mercury
is even used to represent the element…

We can’t land anything on Mercury
because of it’s hostile environment,
like the volatility of the liquid element
(the only liquid element considered a mineral).
People shy away from using Mercury
in thermometers any longer
because the toxic mercury can leak.

Historically they tried to use mercury
for mirrors (they use silver now),
and ancient cultures used cosmetics
containing the poisonous mercury
that often disfigured women’s faces.
Ah, the ways women hurt themselves
to make themselves beautiful —
you can still find mercury
(you know, because it stays liquid)
in eyelash mascara.

Putting a toxic element so close to your eyes,
that sounds like a good idea…

Then again, someone just told me
that doctors used to give mercury
antibiotic eye drops to babies
just after birth,
to prevent eye infections
from Gonorrhea / Chlamydia bacteria.

Ah, the many ways
we can use toxins
to supposedly help us.

We want to learn about the planet Mercury?
We send unmanned ships through space
to photograph Mercury as much as we can,
remotely check the atmosphere levels,
the temperature, the speed.
We use mercury in our make-up,
mercury is used in dental amalgams.
Mercury has also been used
in traditional Chinese medicine,
and we used mercury in thermometers
to regulate our temperature,
and used it in blood pressure devices.

Because, we want to learn,
and we want to do anything,
to use anything to our own ends,
no matter how toxic.