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


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry”” series (#43, Tc)

You’re named from the Greek word for “artificial”,
because you were the first element man ever made…

We wanted to discover, we wanted to find you out —
we’d even create you if this was the only way.

We can only find you after your brethren
have been broken apart to reveal you. But the thing is,

your name is a bit misleading, though, since
you can be found naturally, albeit in trace amounts.

Though it’s funny, we searched for you for so long,
and now we discover that you’re a by-product

of our nuclear power stations. Then everyone thought
we wouldn’t know what to do with nuclear waste.

You’ve been put into the environment as
“low-level-waste” for nearly half a century,

but what I’ve learned is that doctors inject
small amounts of you into patients with tumors,

so they can see exactly where they need to heal people.
People wondered what we’d do with our nuclear waste,

but now you’re used in 20 million medical procedures
each year, because your short half-life makes you safe

and the way you decay helps doctors see
exactly what they need to do to save a life.

And yeah, you’re nuclear waste injected into a human,
but they need such a small amount that radiation is low.

It’s hard to believe that we searched for you for so long,
and now that you’re injected into 20 million patients —

in North America alone — every year,
it’s good that we finally found you out.

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


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#084, Po)
including the poem “Eyes are Blurred to the Battlefield”

On the Indonesian island Jawa
large turtle skeletons
litter the plains,

because after the turtles
came in from the ocean
to lay their eggs,

swarms of wild dogs there
got together and

Those wild dogs flipped the turtles over,
and stripped them completely
from their shells

before they ate them alive.

Because we have to remember
that life is a constant
avoidance of death:

since later on, many of those wild dogs
who killed the turtles
were prey to the tiger,

who later pounced upon them.
This is the cycle of life,
because every birth

is a prelude to death.
Remember this.
Don’t forget.


Keep in mind that elemental Polonium
changes in a nuclear reactor
to form Polonium-210…

Because the former Russian agent
Alexander Litvinenko
was the first man

to be poisoned to death from lethal
acute radiation.

So yes, because life is a prelude to,
and a constant avoidance
of death,

this Polonium-210 poisoning marked
the beginning of an era
of nuclear terrorism.


I know, I know, this is only
a part of Polonium,
and they found

that Polonium’s electrical conductivity
changes with it’s temperature,
making it perfect

for eliminating static electricity.
And because of it’s
short half-life,

it’s decay generates heat, so it’s a
convenient and light source
to generate

thermo-electric power in space
satellites and lunar stations —
because it’s great

that for space no moving parts
are required for power
from Polonium.

Yes, I know it’s radioactive,
Marie Curie discovered

(named for her homeland Poland),
she even coined the phrase
“radioactivity” while

working. She even worked so diligently
that on her own wedding day
she wore a black dress —

because she could then wear it
for the work she later
had to do.


Marie Curie wore a black dress
to her own wedding;
maybe she knew

that life is a constant avoidance
of death. Life is just
a prelude to death,

because though Polonium otherwise
seems like a relatively
harmless element,

Polonium-210 can still be used
as just the right element
for nuclear terrorism.


With Polonium, there’s much to learn.
Because when alloyed,
it can be

a portable neutron source, Polonium
is even used in making
photographic plates.

But then again, Polonium’s
the only component
of cigarette smoke

found in lab rats to produce cancer.
Polonium was produced
in World War II’s

Manhattan Project — it was even
part of the design of the
Fat Man bomb

on Nagasaki. Yeah, Polonium
has many good qualities
to us humans,

but kep in mind that life is still
a constant avoidance
of death.

So despite what good we look for
in Polonium, this element
can also be

the instrument of death.
Remember this.
Don’t forget.

Curium, “Periodic Table od Poetry” poem by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#96, Cm)

Searching through storage
for my wedding clothes,
I ignored my white wedding dress
and reached for the wedding veil.
It might not be true
to my Halloween costume,
but I had to wear something
to show that my black long-sleeved dress
was actually a wedding dress.
I’ll carry a small bunch
of white flowers
to make what otherwise
seems like a “goth wedding”
look complete, but still,
I’ll have to explain
that my Halloween costume
is my interpretation
of Marie Curie
on her wedding day.

I mean, I had to wear this
for my Halloween costume,
I mean, I’m writing poetry
for every element
in the Periodic Table,
and I know that Marie Curie
discovered a few of these
elements herself, and one
was even named after her.

And maybe it’s wasn’t goth,
but a diligent work ethic
that caused Marie Curie
on her own wedding day
to wear a black dress —
so she could wear the same
black dress later for her work.

And yeah, when she worked
she was getting messy with her
radioactive elements
(ergo the black dress, I suppose),
but when she studied
the radioactivity
of some elements
seeming higher at times,
she deduced that there
must be something else
causing the radiation.

And there was;
she even coined the
term “radioactivity,’
while she discovered
the two radioactive elements
radium and polonium.

But looking back on her life,
maybe wearing the black
dress was appropriate,
because she soared
in all the schooling
she could legally take
(at the time, she couldn’t
enroll in a higher education
because she was female) —
so she eventually had
to go underground learning
for higher education
in makeshift classrooms
that lasted only a few days
before a government raid
would cause the “schooling”
to have to move again.
She then left Poland for Paris,
was able to go to school,
but was still penniless and hungry.

But after her second degree,
she met her Pierre,
who worked with her
even after their marriage
(where they gave each other
bicycles as wedding gifts).

I know, I know, I’m going
on and on about Marie Curie
for my Halloween costume,
and there’s even an element
named after her, but she
didn’t discover that element,
so does Curium have any
relationship to Marie Curie?
Well, other than the fact
that Curium’s radioactive
(Curium is actually one of the
most radioactive elements),
Curium is now used to help
scientists learn and discover,
much the way Marie Curie did.

Curium helps people, to help
power artificial pacemakers.
But it’s even used in alpha-particle
X-ray spectrometers that are
installed on lunar and Mars rovers
like the Sojourner or the
Spirit and Opportunity rovers.
It’s even used on a spacecraft
to probe the surface of a comet.

Hmmm… Because it’s radioactive,
Curium is dangerous to us humans,
even though it really does have
a certain glow to it…
But it is nice to know that,
like Marie Curie,
we can use this element
to research and learn.
Besides, both being a goth girl
and loving to dive into my work
is really making me take a shine
to this black wedding dress idea…