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.
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.