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.

Potassium poem by Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series

Every once in a while, in the middle of the night,
I wake up in massive pain as one of my legs convulses,
and it feels like my leg’s in a vice grip
as my muscles cramp at me defiantly
until I attempt to stand to battle the pain,
while I hold on to my bed frame,
struggling until the pain ends.

And that’s when he tells me
“Leg cramps? You’re low on Potassium.
You should eat a banana every day.”
So if there are bananas in the house,
I’ll eat one the morning after one of those
leg cramp episodes,
because even though I’m a vegetarian,
I’m really not that fond of bananas.

So then I have to remind myself,
you need Potassium, and bananas
are apparently high in Potassium.

But wait, I take a multi-vitamin daily,
that has to have all the Potassium
I should never need.
So I read the label on my multi-vitamin jar,
scan for Potassium, and see
that it only has two percent of my USRDA…

Wait a minute… That doesn’t make sense.
So I look for Potassium supplement jars,
And as a rule they don’t exist.
(At first glance on line Potassium Hydroxide
is available after you fill out a hazmat waiver form,
and besides, Potassium Hydroxide is used for livestock,
and Potassium Chloride is an injectible for pets.)
And that’s when he tells me,
“Oh, they don’t sell supplements
of just Potassium,
because it’s toxic if you take too much,
So, since it’s a a health risk they won’t sell it.”
And all I could think
was that if I took a ton of multi-vitamins,
that would probably be toxic too…
So then in frustration I looked
to find the average amount
of Potassium in a banana.

It was three percent.

Really? Three percent?
That’s all I need to stop my leg from cramping at night?
Then why is the USRDA For Potassium so high?
And how bad for you can Potassium be
that they won’t put enough into multi-vitamins,
and they won’t even release it as a supplement?

Then while shopping, I looked at a flip-top sale can
of Chef Boyardee at Kmart for a dollar.
The can was for whole grain lasagna.
I looked at the back label
with the Nutrition Facts, and saw that it had
ninety-eight milligrams of Potassium,
which was twenty-eight percent

So even though there is a ton
of sugar and salt and fat
in a can of Chef Boyardee,
should I start shoveling down
that pre-processed pasta
instead of a banana
when my leg cramps at night?

I mean, if I can find a surplus of Potassium
in a pre-packaged can of Chef Boyardee Lasagna,
maybe I should look for Potassium
in other sales at the front of this local store….
So, let’s see. Jolly Ranchers don’t have Potassium.
Swedish Fish don’t have Potassium.
Willie Wonka Nerds don’t have Potassium.
Nestle Goobers don’t have Potassium.
A can of Green Giant Sweet Peas doesn’t have Potassium.
A bottle of Italian salad dressing doesn’t have Potassium.
A bag of rigatoni noodles doesn’t have Potassium.
And I really doubt I should be living off of cans
of Chef Boyardee whole wheat pasta lasagna.
(Besides, I think I’d be too afraid
to even eat lasagna from a can. Really.)

So I’m sorry, but I’m just trying to figure out
why you need Potassium in your diet so much
if I can’t even find it easily in foods…
And since they say bananas have Potassium,
I looked into it: since Potassium is needed
in all living cells, a depletion of Potassium in humans
can also lead to cardiac problems.
But from what I’ve found, Potassium is needed
in plant production, because it’s found
in many vegetables as well as fruits
(like bananas, I suppose). But the way we
mass farm now in this global economy,
it’s even leading to a depletion of Potassium
in the soil… And the thing is, Potassium
is usually found ionized in salts, meaning
that it’s water solubility gives Potassium
many chemicals in it’s ionized form…
(Which I suppose is good for us humans,
since we are over fifty percent water.)
And this is the weird part: because Potassium
is so water soluble, it is never actually
found as the pure elemental Potassium.
The English first called Potassium “Potash”
(derived from an old Dutch word for the way it was
extracted, after evaporating solution in a pot
to leave traces of Potassium like ash),
and was first primarily used in the production
of glass, bleach or soaps (which seems
totally fitting because of it’s water solubility).
Then a German researcher introduced
Potassium into fertilizers, which is awesome
for us humans who need Potassium for our cells,
so Potassium could be in all of our plants and fruits,
but now it seems due to our mass farming
that Potassium fertilizers won’t be enough,
especially when in this modern age
we usually opt for processed foods lacking
Potassium instead of fresh fruits and vegetables.

And yeah, because of it’s solubility with water,
it can react with some of the elements
like hydrogen (producing a ton of heat)
or halogen (detonating with a bromide),
or even have explosive reactions with sulphuric acid.

That just totally reminds me how Potassium,
like so many elements we need in our lives,
can also have terrible repercussions when mixed
in just the right way with just a select few elements…
Because if I can get Potassium into my body
in just the right — and natural — way,
maybe then I’ll stop having muscle spasms
at night, reminding me that I’m deficient
in the element that all my cells so desperately need.