Thorium, from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#90. Th) by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers

Thorium

Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#90. Th)
7/1/14

Think of how many times
you’ve heard scientists say
(or maybe you’ve heard it
from people on daredevil tv)
“do not try this at home” —
knowing that someone,
somewhere
won’t heed this advice
and end up
with an unintended explosion
instead of a fantastic discovery
from their radical experiment…

Well, good thing one Swedish chemist
didn’t decide to “not try this at home”,
doing groundbreaking experiments
in his kitchen flat.
Though Jöns Jacob Berzelius
discovered a few elements,
he seemed so psyched
to name one new element
for the Scandinavian god of thunder, Thor.

And it’s kind of funny
that with his affinity for Thorium,
he never understood
Thorium’s radioactivity
(because, well,
when he discovered Thorium,
radioactivity hadn’t
even been discovered yet).

But after Thorium was discovered,
Thorium was used
for powering gas lamps
back in the day
when the world’s light
disappeared at nightfall.
But wait, Thorium’s radioactive,
and back in the day
they didn’t know this,
so did people get cancer
from radiation poisoning?

Well, maybe if
there was enough Thorium
in those gas lamps,
and maybe if that Thorium
wasn’t stopped from
getting to humans
by the glass surrounding the lamps…
Because only if you’d
eat Thorium (and maybe
only the supernatural God Thor
would eat Thorium)
maybe only if you ate it
only then might it make you sick.
        I mean, they still sell it
        today in camping lamps,
        unless you actually look for a lamp
        that’s Thorium-free…

But even when it came
to eating Thorium,
some people would do it
back in the ‘30s with x-rays
for detecting their cancer,
because at the time Thorium
was perfect for saving lives
thanks to those x-rays.
So with Thorium for cancer x-rays,
the new cancer risk
seemed like a fair trade-off
before they could find
a safer x-ray detection agent.

So yeah, there’s no way
a Swedish chemist
could have guessed it
when he discovered
the element Thorium
and wanted to name it
after the God of Thunder,
but Thorium can bring
some light into our world,
as long as we use Thorium
in just the right way.

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

Promethium

Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#61, Pm)

The end of the world just passed.
Everyone thought that because the Mayans
ended the calendar at the twenty twelve
Winter Solstice, that meant the
World was ending right then and there.

We all waited with baited breath,
in confused anticipation, not knowing
if we should feel a reserved somber mourning,
a sick ignorant religious end-of-days excitement,
or if we should feel nothing at all.

#

Did you know that Prometheus
was the Titan in Greek mythology
who stole fire from Mount Olympus
and brought it down to humans?
Maybe that fire would be the end of times…

Maybe Prometheus symbolizes
both the daring and the possible misuse
of mankind’s intellect. Maybe the Mayan calendar
wouldn’t do us in, but our own ignorance
and abusive ways would.

Maybe that end-of-the-world feeling we got
is from the rare decay of others,
that only produces the very unstable you.
But the thing is, despite your issues,
despite all of the ways of you may do us in,

from radioactivity to your emitting of x-rays,
we’ve learned that with just a little protection
we’re safe through the next calendar cycle.
Now we’re better prepared, and you’ll be the one
wondering about the end of times.

Lead, periodic table poem from Chicago poet Janet Kuypers

Lead

by Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#082, Pb)

I walked into the bedroom,
opened the closet door,
pulled out the cardboard box,
then opened it to pull out
a pistol case.
I set the piston case down,
opened it,
saw the unloaded twenty-two
and the filled magazine.
I held the magazine
filled with Lead bullets,
reminding myself
that it was always an option.

There’s so much more weight
in those Lead bullets.
They feel heavy in my hand.

Then again,
Lead aprons to protect you from x-rays
are heavy, too.

Lead is so common,
used for thousands of years,
from the Bronze Age,
pushing the Roman economy.
The name for plumbing
even comes from the Latin
“plumbum” because
Lead pipes were used.

And after all these years,
Lead’s not even used
in lead pencils,
that writing stylus
is just a lead mockup. . .

Because Lead comes
from the decay of uranium,
and sometimes could be radioactive,
but still, it can protect you
from things like x-rays
or even nuclear contamination.

So yeah, it can protect you,
and it can also be the missile
in an instrument of death.

As I said,
These bullets
feel so heavy
in my hands.