Magnesium poem by Janet Kuypers

Magnesium (#012, Mg)

Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series

All this time,
I’ve only known you from afar.

Every once in a while,
I’d see you in the distance
while I was driving down the street.

I may have seen you
only eleven times in my life,
and I know a part of you
is essential in all of my living cells,
but as I said,
I’ve only seen you from afar.

Once, I saw you
outside my bedroom window
after the first snowfall
covered the land in a blanket of white.
That’s when I saw you
walking outside alone,
looking for your next meal.

I know you can leave
me with a sour taste,
but I know you are needed
and it aches me to see you suffer so.

I think I saw you with your children
as I sat out on the balcony
of a father’s house —
I watched you in the distance,
but I didn’t watch you alone.
After a while
someone said to me
that you looked peaceful,
but at another time
they would have shot
and killed you instead.

As I said,
I only see you from afar,
so I try to learn
of how you were created
from such large places,
at temperatures higher
than anything we could imagine.

I tried to learn,
because one day
I was told to go outside,
and that’s when I saw you
laying down among the trees,
never to walk away
from my home again.

I’ve always only
seen you from afar,
and suddenly,
as you lay there,
I could see your organs
shriveled and sunken in
after your skin
had pulled away
as you wasted away.
I could see traces
from your capillaries,
and I could trace
your rib cage,
outline your spine.

I know the heat that created you.
I know you’re highly flammable,
and I know that when you start to burn
you’re impossible to stop.
You fire bombed
in World War Two,
and the only way
they could stop you
was by dumping dry sand on you,
because you’d burn through the air,
and you’d even burn under water.

That’s why you’ve been used
in fireworks and in flares.
That’s why you’ve been used
for illumination and flashes
in photography.

So they call this
momento mori,
I thought,
when I grabbed my camera
to photograph you
in your final resting place.
even though
I’ve seen you,
I’ve needed you, and
I’ve known the damage
you can do,
I needed to photograph you
right then and there.
I’m sorry.
I needed to
remember you this way.

Americium poem by Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series

When I heard there was an element
called Americium,
I thought,
what scientist felt possessed
to name an element
after the United States of America?
I mean,
was it discovered during a war effort
when everyone rallied with national spirit?
Was it a World War Two effort
against the element Germanium
named after Germania
(even though that element was not named
for Hitler’s desire to create
the perfect thousand year empire)?
I can’t believe the decision
to name an element Americium
was based on the boo-rah mentality,
go fight win, U.S.A., U.S.A….
I mean, is the actual element
somehow explicitly related to America?

Okay, fine, I will look on line for information.
Let me first check dictionary dot com
before Google or Wikipedia
for information about Americium…
But before I scrolled down to the definition
I saw the speaker icon,
so I could hear the computer-generated voice
say Americium for me…
Oh, Ah-mer-EE-cee-um.
Not Uh-MARE-ick-ee-um. Oops.
But the definition says Americium
is the products of high-energy helium bombardment
of uranium and plutonium.
Wow. I’m really going to have to research this,
and maybe I can dispel the World War Two links
I was apparently making up for this element.

Wait a minute, Americium was discovered
in 1944, but the discovery was kept secret
and only released to the public in November 1945.
(Okay, this doesn’t help my anti-Hitler case…)
Let’s see… Americium was first identified
at the University of California, Berkeley,
and it was chemically identified in Argonne Lab
at the University of Chicago. Okay,
so it was discovered in America, but
in the Periodic Table, Americium falls
right next to it’s twin lanthanide element europium;
so thus by analogy, they named this element
after another continent, America.

Hmmm, fun little story. But Americium
was primarily used in nuclear tests
conducted between 1945 and 1980,
as well as at sites like the Chernobyl disaster.
(Oh, so we go from Germany as our emeny
to the Soviet Union as our enemy,
because the enemy of your enemy
is not necessarily your friend.)
And elevated levels of Americium
were also at the crash site of a US B-52 bomber
which carried four hydrogen bombs
in 1968 in Greenland.

But us Americans have to come up
with more practical appplications
for Americium than nuclear testing…
And that’s when I learnbed
that the silvery-white element
(which is soft and malleable,
and tarnishes in the air)
has isotopes that are used in
smoke detectors.
So an element that can help kill
can also help save people’s lives.
Well, I guess in a way
that sounds like America, too.