Okay, it’s all about the Oxygen, bonus “Periodic Table of Poetry” poem from Chicago poet Janet Kuypers

Okay, it’s all about the Oxygen

Janet Kuypers

bonus poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (&#035l8, O)
9/6/13

Okay, so I like to think of myself
as a history buff.

And no, I don’t pay attention to
American history,
or even the details of, like, the ancient
Roman Empire
or anything – for the most part,
I’m not even
interested in the history of people…
To quote Linus
in Peanuts, “I love mankind, it’s people
I can’t stand”…

Yeah, I know, my history’s older than the
human race:
how was this Solar System formed?
Or the Earth?
How was this planet able to sustain life
so that we humans
could sit around thinking about
this stuff?

As I said, when I think history,
all I can do
is gather evidence and theorize…
But really,
that just shows that there are times
when I’m actually
transfixed on a truly more universal
puzzle.

#

So look, I know I’ve studied way back
to when matter
didn’t even exist yet in this Universe,
or how matter formed.
I know theories about asteroids bringing
the building blocks
of life itself to this planet. And sure,
scientists think comets
brought water to planet Earth, too.
But when I think
of early Earth, when it formed, it was a real
mess, there were
constant bombardments with objects
from outer space,
volcanoes were going off constantly,
and the atmosphere
was all sulfur and methane, thanks
to the volatility
of Earth mach one. And okay, comets
may have brought water,
and water has Oxygen in it, but really,
back then the atmosphere
was a bunch of un-breathable stuff
to us humans.

Okay, so because there was no Oxygen
in the atmosphere,
any life that started on Earth mach one
probably thought
Oxygen was poisonous. (Because okay,
I know there’s nitrogen
in our atmosphere, but if there was
no Oxygen
and it was replaced by sulfur
we couldn’t live,
but early life living in a sulfur-rich
environment
may find Oxygen is toxic to them, right?)

Okay, so I know
the universal historian inside of me
wanted to know
how Oxygen actually got into our air,
so human life
(or any life as we know it here on Earth)
could actually begin.

#

Okay, so paleontologists study fossils,
and the found some
that are two hundred million years old,
like in Earth mach one.
Think about it: this was cyanobacteria from
two hundred million
years ago, near what scientists now call
the great Oxygen event
(which is what they call the biologically
induced
appearance of Oxygen in the air).
Well anyway,
in Earth mach one, any Oxygen that existed
was just dissolved
by the molten iron (that same iron
that formed
the Earth’s inner core, I imagine).
But the thing is,
this cyanobacteria used photosynthesis,
making Oxygen.
And once there was so much Oxygen
that it couldn’t be
dissolved into the then saturated reserves,
all that Oxygen
stayed in our atmosphere instead.

#

I don’t know, I keep trying to piece together
this puzzle,
but this whole ‘Universe puzzle’ is a pretty
massive endeavor.
I mean okay, all matter that we can monitor
only takes up
maybe four percent of this Universe.
And I still don’t
know how to fit the idea of Dark Matter
into this puzzle
I’ve been working on… So maybe
I’ll have to reassess
learning everything about everything right now,
and work
with stuff like the Oxygen around me
instead…

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

Manganese

Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#025, Mn)
(stemming from “Became a Jungle”, written 05/17/10,
with references to “Everything Lives With Her”, written 9/2/06)
3/28/13

I wanted plants around.

She always had plants around,
everything thrived with her.

Ever since she died
my home has become a jungle.

Let me have control over this.

Let me add water nearly daily
to the plant I bought when I visited her,
or to the tree she gave me years ago.

Add plant food to the water.
Because I don’t want anything to die.

Trim the dried leaves,
because they would remind me
that even nature misses her.

Keep plants near windows,
they need their light.
Their Manganese needs it
for their chlorophyll production.

Actually, their Manganese assimilates
the carbon dioxide in photosynthesis.

So breathe in our carbon dioxide
and give me more
of my precious oxygen,
so we can realize
how we depend on each other so.

Actually, I should stock up
on Manganese plant supplements.

I’ll make sure you get everything you need.
I’ll make sure nothing happens to you.

Hydrogen Cyanide, bonus poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (for Hydrogen, element #01, H) by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers

Hydrogen Cyanide

Janet Kuypers

bonus poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#01, H)
started 9/5/13, edited 9/19/13 and 9/21/13, finished 9/22/13

He was once a college chemistry professor, so he
hoped he was a shoe-in to work with the Waffen-SS.

He ended up working at the Rundfunkhaus —
a Berlin radio station broadcasting Nazi propaganda.

But after his university was bombed, he took
what he could get and was grateful for work

that didn’t require him to use a gun. But when
the Science and Research Department at

the Reich Main Security Office gave him orders
to go to the Dachau camp to retrieve paperwork,

he solemnly went home to pack for his two-day
trip, driving there one day, returning home the next.

#

He’d seen the Sachsenhausen concentration camp,
35 kilometres north of Berlin, but Sachsenhausen

was more of a training centre for Schutzstaffel officers
before the SS men were sent to oversee other camps.

And although Dachau was small, it was essentially
the first, and set the standard for all of Hitler’s camps.

He felt the tension knot in his stomach grow,
even before saying goodbye his wife and two children.

#

Arriving at the camp the next afternoon, he learned
the lieutenant general was away from his office,

so he could only get the necessary paperwork
the next morning. Which left him alone

at the camp, in a stranger’s office. He paced.
A part of him didn’t want to go out there,

there was safety inside these office walls.
Here he could remain separate from the war.

#

After nearly an hour of pacing, he decided
to just go out there. Face it. Get it over with.

And when he stepped outside the air felt heavy;
he could feel the weight of the move he made,

the weight of his legs grew heavier; he dragged
his feet, making his way to the open walkway.

Although there was that heavy haze in the air,
he knew what chemical reactions had occurred

to leave that distinct smell in the smoke
and haze working it’s way through the air.

He saw across the clearing the doors close to the
“showers”, so he walked with a determination

to bring himself to the hall. He could hear
the sounds of people inside grow louder,

but he then caught a glimpse of a guard
that just made his way to the roof. As he

got closer, he watched the soldier open
what looked like a can, then shake it

into the vent at the centre of the building,
before closing the vent and walking across

the roof before taking the ladder back down.
From the moment anything from that can

made it’s way into that building, with
every subsequent step he took, he could hear

the wails and screams get louder and louder
from the Jews inside. He stopped for a moment.

Look, he thought, he knew what this was,
get used to this, was all he could think to himself

to get his heavy feet moving again. He
caught the soldier walking down the ladder

from the building, and quickened his pace
to catch him before he got far from the building.

Not able to see the ranking on his uniform shirt,
he quickened his pace to not yell for the soldier.

With the soldier still holding the jar in his hand,
he asked if he could see the can. Once he had it

in his hands, he looked at all elements on the label.
Zyklon B. Hydrogen Cyanide. He knew

this poisonous liquid boiled just above room
temperature, so he knew that all they had to do

was drop some from a sealed can into the open hall,
poisoning thousands in only twenty minutes.

He knew the Germans first thought of using
this Prussic acid against Napoleon in eighteen

thirteen — and if they had, it would have been
the first time Hydrogen Cyanide was used in warfare…

But look at him now, the chemistry professor,
reduced to thinking of how all the Jews inhaled

the bitter almond smell of Hydrogen Cyanide,
until it combined with their red blood cells,

causing death from oxygen starvation.
He suddenly felt he needed to take a deep

breath, get in all the oxygen he could. He saw
the blue stains on the concrete walls, then walked

back to the soldier to give him the empty can,
when the soldier, making small talk, said

“one of the older Jews pleaded to me,
‘I’m a decorated vet from WWI, I was in an

artillery battalion, we shot gas shells at the
British and Americans, I shouldn’t be here,

my paperwork’s with my luggage—’ And they
just kept telling him to go into the showers…”

And he knew in WWI we shot these shells into trenches
in France, so he shrugged and gave a slight grin,

to commiserate with the soldier, but he knew
that everyone fights their own battles in this war.

He was only a lieutenant, a lower-ranking attache
than the colonel who sent him on this job,

but he still held rank over this soldier, so he told
the soldier that once there were no screams inside

and they opened the doors to bring everyone
to the crematoriums, he wanted to be notified.

Then he walked away. At fifty metres he clutched
at his pockets to find his cigarettes and lighter;

he wanted anything to calm him down and help
him focus on anything else until it was time.

#

He stood in the field, chain smoking, until
he heard the running footsteps in the distance.

He looked at his pocket watch. Twenty minutes
had passed, as he saw a soldier running

toward him. He looked at the gas chamber
and saw they had opened the doors, so he started

his methodical walk back to where he was
destined to go. He acknowledged the soldier

with a wave, and quickened his pace
to the building. He saw a few different soldiers

this time, all waiting until the cloud of gas
was cleared from the chamber so they could work.

He walked to the doorway. It was dark,
but he could make out a pyramid of people

toward that small now closed centre vent.
From what he could tell, it looked like the Jews

tossed the babies and small children toward
the top, in an effort to keep the children alive.

One of the soldiers passed him as he stared,
so he asked him how long he had been doing this.

“Nearly a year,” he answered. So he had to ask
if doing this, if seeing this, bothered him.

The man only answered, “If you do something
long enough, you get used to anything.”

With that, he nodded slightly, and knew
he saw enough. He walked away.

#

Early the next morning, he came back to the offices
at the Dachau concentration camp, so he could

get his paperwork as quickly as possible, so he
could get out of there as quickly as possible.

#

The tension knot grew smaller in his stomach
the closer he got to his home in that drive,

but as he came to his home, he saw his wife
sitting outside their home, with all the widows open.

Once he got out of the car, he could hear
her coughing, sounding more and more hoarse

with each gasp. He only wanted to hold her,
but concern overtook him as she explained

that she just used a pesticide fumigant
throughout the house, and she could

no longer breathe while inside those walls.
He looked to the second floor of the house

for the children, and she told him they were
each staying the night at friends homes.

And suddenly he imagined that fumigant
that’s killing the vermin inside their home —

Hydrogen Cyanide was now in their home.
A form of Zyklon B was now in their home.

All she was trying to do was kill the vermin,
and he thought of the propaganda ministry

he now worked for, telling the nation to believe
that the Jews are the rats, the Jews are the vermin.

So he looked at their home, and told her
they would get out of here tonight, as far

as they possibly could. He then held her close
before they walked away, holding hands.

DNA and Carbon in Asteroids (oh my), bonus poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers

DNA and Carbon, in Asteroids (oh my)

Janet Kuypers

bonus poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series
3/13/13

You know, us Carbon-based life forms
always wonder where we came from,
how we got here.

And with science on our side,
we’ve looked beyond
guessing and story telling
to find proof in our answers.

And still, we look beyond
what we know around us
to find out how we were formed
here on earth.

#

A couple of asteroids
just flew
perilously close to the earth.
Asteroid 2012 DA 14 intersected the iridium constellation,
flew through all of our global communication satellites.
An asteroid turned meteor blew up in the atmosphere
above the Ural mountains;
every Russian on the road
filmed the sky explosion
with their dashboard cameras,
before the sonic boom shattered windows everywhere
and injured over a thousand people.

And over two thirds of our planet
is covered in water,
just think of all of the impacts
we’re missing out on;
I mean, our news feeds
don’t come from the middle of the ocean…

So we seem to think that these stellar explosions
are becoming more and more rare,
because our planet is pocked with massive impacts
from the earth’s early history.
But now that these scientists
have been scanning the skies
and studying the meteors buried in Antarctica,
they’ve learned that many asteroids and meteors
colliding with our planet’s crust
actually carry atanine and guanine.

Asteroids carry major structures that form DNA.

It’s very possible
that throughout the early history of earth,
asteroids collided with this planet,
leaving their Carbon-rich DNA structures behind
to help start life, and populate the earth.

I mean, Scientists have always wondered
how the elemental sextet of life:
Carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, phosphorous, nitrogen, calcium,
how did these elements got together
in just the right way
to eventually create earth’s Carbon-based life forms.

I guess it would help that primordial soup
if some asteroids brought along
a little bit of DNA,
so some of our building blocks
came ready-made.

Astronomers say that we’re all made out of stardust,
because all of our atoms
originate from the explosion of stars,
but for this Carbon-based life form,
it’s cool that some of these asteroids and meteors
carried our Carbon —
and some of our DNA —
here to planet earth,
to jump-start our creation
and get our genetic gears going.

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

Cerium

by Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#58, Ce)
including the poem “Jumping from the Skyline to the Clouds”
8/6/13

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.

“from Hydrogen to Nothing”, periodic table poem by Janet Kuypers

from Hydrogen to Nothing

Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#085, At)
(with references to the poem “Fantastic Car Crash”, 7/3/98)

Love is like tap water,
free flowing…
Remember when you were little,
just put a glass under the faucet
and quench your thirst?

Wait a minute,
it’s not like that.
Water isn’t free.
You even have to pay
for the water in your own home,
and
it’s not even clean.

What you’re getting is dirty.
And you still have to pay for it.

#

You know, they say us humans
are like seventy percent water.

And when I think of you,
and all the time we were together —

well, if you’re seventy percent water,
I have to remember
that it wasn’t pure and clean with you.
If this was love;
if this was you —
it wasn’t free.
I’m still paying for it.

#

I mean, they say we’re mostly made of water,
Hydrogen, oxygen…
But it’s like you were
an electron from Hydrogen to me,
one electron,
spinning around
the center of me,
always keeping
an all too tight
grip on me.

I would think I was free,
and there you would be,
that one presence
I could never get rid of.

You were spinning, orbiting,
spinning my head…
You were keeping your distance,
but still,
you made sure
you were always there,
holding me down.

If we’re mostly made of water,
and you spun around me
like in that Hydrogen atom,
you kept me gasping for air.
I needed that oxygen…
I know water is Hydrogen and oxygen,
I know I’ve got it in me,
I’ve just got to keep myself together
after dealing with what you’ve done to me.

#

When we’re seventy percent water,
by mass we’re only eleven percent
Hydrogen.
So most of the mass in our body
may be oxygen…
But by an atomic percentage
we’re sixty-seven percent
Hydrogen,
meaning most of the atoms
in our bodies
are Hydrogen.

Just one electron,
spinning around that nucleus,
just spinning,
and never letting go.

#

When I now think of you,
and the fact that you made me feel like nothing —
well, I think of what you’re made of,
and I have to remember:

we’re all made of atoms,
protons and neutrons,
infinitely small,
wound tightly together in the nucleus

surrounded
at a comparatively vast distance
by occasional,
tiny,
orbiting
electrons.

So when I think of you
I have to remember
that you’re made of those atoms
with really tiny cores —
and those atoms are filled with so much space
that you’re mostly made of nothing.

When I think of you,
I remind myself of this.

When I think of the nothingness you made me feel,
and the fact that you should mean nothing to me,
this is how I must think of you.

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

Oxygen

by Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series

In the South Pacific Ocean
I held my breath, plunged in
and swam deeper into the water
to get closer to the schools
of White Tipped Sharks
huddled at the bottom of the ocean.
With my flippers,
I pushed myself
deeper into the water.
The now useless snorkel
was my only reminder of air
as I kept going,
with only my mask for navigation.
Though the moving sand
did not entirely obstruct the water,
the sun grew less intense
the farther I traveled.

Just remember to not
get too close to the sharks,
I had to keep reminding myself.

I almost froze
when I spotted the Stingray.
They work so hard
to avoid being seen,
so they can surprise they prey
and have their next meal.
I spotted it,
but it made me stop.
It surprised me
that I had come this far,
and nothing but a little water
separated me from animals
that could seal my fate.

I stared for a while,
then realized
that I needed to get some air,
so I turned toward the light.

I had been underwater so long
that the oxygen was pulled
from my muscles,
and I didn’t have
the energy to kick.

I panicked.

When you become acutely aware
of your desperate need for air,
your body plays tricks on you.
I forgot about looking back
at the sharks and Stingray below,
I even forgot about the Sea Lions
and Lion Seals above.
I’ll deal with whatever’s on the surface
once I get there.

Now, get yourself to kick.
Think. You can do it. Push.
I managed to kick my legs once
and started to move my way
through the water.
I hoped momentum
could keep me going,
but nothing was fast enough
any longer.

You can do this,
I thought.
Push again.

I pushed, I moved,
but the surface
still seemed miles away.
Now I know there’s twice
as much hydrogen around me
as oxygen,
but oxygen is so much bigger
than hydrogen…
Oxygen is the most abundant
chemical element by mass
in our biosphere,
in our air, sea and land.
But I can’t get to
the oxygen in this water.

I can’t let this be
the death of me.

My chest started to tighten.
My chest started burning,
like someone lit a match
and the last oxygen in my body
was setting my lungs on fire.

I clenched my teeth tighter
around that snorkel mouthpiece.
I know I couldn’t breathe yet,
but I couldn’t let this piece go free
and possibly move my mask
while I was trying to
save myself.

Come on, I thought.
Your legs are strong.
You can do this.
So I pushed again
until I could see
a few people
trying to swim toward me.
I tried to keep moving
until someone threw their arm
around my waist.
I hoped they would be able
to breathe for the both of us
until we broke the surface.

###

I remember feeling
wet sand being pushed against my skin
as they dragged me out of the water
until they let me lay on my side
so I could cough.
I had no water in me,
but I had to do
anything I could
to give myself oxygen again.

Once I was able to breathe
comfortably again,
I tried to think of my breathing.
I know I can’t get oxygen toxicity
by breathing too deeply…
Take a deep breath.
Get the oxygen to my blood.
Your toes are tingling.
Inhale deeply. Now imagine
your oxygenated blood
rushing to your feet.
The oxygen’s to your brain now.
Keep thinking, mentally pushing
the oxygen throughout your body.

###

When I got back inside that evening,
they had started a fire
in the fireplace for me.
And I thought, how fitting.
I was stuck in the water,
with all that hydrogen and oxygen,
until I could have some oxygen
to breathe again.
We are over half water as it is,
meaning the majority
of our mass is oxygen.
And there I was,
now at a roaring fireplace,
with oxygen fueling the fire.
It’s funny,
how on this one day
a basic element like oxygen
could help me go
when I’ve never been before,
could warm me up
at the end of the day,
and could show me in it’s absence
how crucial is was
everywhere in my life.