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…

Fluorine poem by Janet Kuypers


by Janet Kuypers

of Scars Publications
from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series

Just got a postcard from my dentist
telling me it’s time to schedule
another dental appointment.
I thought about the fluoride toothpaste
I just changed to, and then
I wondered about water fluoridation,
the government adds fluoride
to public water supplies, you know,
to reduce tooth decay and hopefully
prevent cavities. Hmmm,
how much water would I have to drink
so I wouldn’t have to go to the dentist
so regularly?
Wait a minute, I just read that
for the fluoride to work, it has to remain
in contact with the teeth, so fluoride ions
that are swallowed won’t help.

Maybe I should just gargle with water more.

But fluoride is just one of the ionic compounds
of Fluorine, and I thought it was funny
when I found out that the name
for the mineral fluorite is derived
from the Latin word “flow”,
because it was added to metals
to make them flow.

Kind of like water, I suppose,
which we now add flourine to.

But you know, it’s not just teeth
that Fluorine can help…
I mean check this out,
Because of the stability
of the carbon-fluorine bond,
many drugs are fluoridated
to stop their metabolism
and prolong their half-lives
(I always wondered how they made
time-release drugs work..)
And now over twenty percent
of commercial drugs use Fluorine.
I mean, scientists have even used
the radioactive isotope fluorine-18
when performing PET scans —
and it’s amazing that liquid fluorocarbons
can hold gas in solution,
and can even hold
more oxygen and carbon
that our own blood…

Wow, I didn’t realize
how useful Fluorine was
for helping humans out.

But the thing is,
Fluorine’s actually really toxic,
some isotopes are used for insecticides,
and Fluorine attacks the eyes,
lungs, liver and kidneys,
and Hydrofluoric acid
is a pretty nasty contact poison.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
have even been strictly regulated
through international agreements
for fear of our environment
and the depletion of the Ozone…
I mean, the U.S. Government
even has a slew of signs
for the dangers of this element:
It’s a toxic gas.
It’s corrosive.
It’s an inhalation hazard.
(wait a minute,
I thought it was so good for me,
how can it also be so bad?)

So too much of Flourine
in the right way
can be devastating for you,
and in other ways
it can help your bones
or help your medication.
Fascinating. I guess this is another way
we have learned to take
the bad with the good
(or is it that we have learned
to take the good out of the bad?).

Maybe I won’t start to gargle with water
because of the Fluorine,
and maybe I should just deal
with everyone’s inherent fear
of the dentist, and just go,
and come out of it
with cleaner teeth
for the next six months…

Phosphorus poem by Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series

I didn’t know how much I needed you.
I didn’t know how essential you were to me.
I didn’t know how my creation depended on you.

Even though I barely see you,
even though you seemed barely there for me,
even though I got rid of you whenever I could…

I didn’t know that even though
you were barely there,
you were there… just enough.

Like Venus, I only saw you from afar.
Like what is in DNA, RNA, ATP, you are
like me, all the way down to my cell membranes.

When I think of you,
when I breathe in the oxygen around me,
when your phosphorescence illuminates me…

Then I realize your true power.
Then I realize you’re the light bearer.
Then I realize you’re my morning star.

Though you seem toxic,
though you seem explosive,
that’s apparently the spark that gets me going.

So, remember that you give the Earth life.
So remember, you can always light my fire.
So, remember that since you have that charge

you can also help us destroy ourselves.