{pf: poetry 7 ♢ crowning our year with the elements}


the poetry seven

Did you have to memorize part of the Periodic Table in chemistry? Of course you did. Thank you, Dr. Plubell, for reminding us that Ha! He Lied Because Boys Can Not Own Females, Never … the mnemonics were varied, and confused, and how we sweated that test. Some schools were allowed to memorize only the first twenty elements. Oh, not our school. Dr. P. just blanked out random squares… and we were supposed to fill out as much as we could of the whole table.

Good times, no? I skated out of chemistry with a C-, I think. By the skin of my teeth.

But, I always LIKED chemistry, just as I like the idea of space and NASA and astronomy (another course I took in college, in which I didn’t really – hah – shine) and political theory and string theory and religion. I just don’t really get all of it. So, when the Seven Sisters suggested we do our crown on the Periodic Table I … quietly … died. I mean, come on. Srsly!? Not only are they real poets, one of them has a daughter at NASA, another writes science poetry while still another teaches TEACHERS math and science. I was, as usual, in way over my head.

But, the thing is, I can do sonnets. There are Rules. There are iambs. There is structure. I might not be able to figure out what Hafnium does, but by golly, I can count to fourteen.

platinum alchemical symbol

The next hurdle was the Period. Seven poets, seven rows – it worked out. But, because in a crown that last line is the first line of the next person’s sonnet, it was a bit… fraught. Fortunately, Laura jumped right in, imagining the Table as Pandora’s box. From there, Tricia threw down kryptonite – you didn’t know that was an element, did you? – and Sara – after calling us unstable elements (a-hem) named us science lovers. Kelly managed to use the word “radioactivity” and muse at calcium’s metallic nature, and Liz had us gnashing our fillings yet not blaming the elements for our issues.

Lead alchemical symbol

I ended up with Period 6 – full of toxic gases, poisonous metals, and a few treasures. The preponderance of deadly things in this Period really got me thinking about our historical dabbling with things that could kill us. Anyone who has watched a loved one go through cancer knows that we still walk pretty closely with elements which could wipe us out – but chemistry, and the alchemy of human intellect and courage, gives us at least a fighting chance against disease. Go, science!

Row 6

Period 6

Don’t blame the elements for our demise.
What doesn’t kill us – staid in chemist’s hands,
Transformed through science into health’s allies –
Will strengthen, if the cure we can withstand.

We scientists approaching this sixth row
Both toxic radon and earth magnets find.
Radiant metals, some with half-life glow
Can manufacture health for humankind.

The intellect, that bright quicksilver streak
Of those who sought the elements to tame
Theory to fact, persistence scales the peak
Of ignorance, lends wings to wisdom’s flame

So heirs of strength, persist in courage bold
Our mettle tested, move from lead to gold.

Tricia, standing in for Andi, polished our crown in a beautifully scientific way. Keeping in mind that the first line of the first sonnet is repeated as the final line of the final sonnet, that her sonnet both made elemental sense and was poetically coherent is a real feat. You can read the entire crown at Tricia’s second post.

Just as we completed our poems and pondered posting them, the Royal Chemistry Society confirmed the news that there were new elements discovered!!! Fine, but that’s for the rest of you to write sonnets about…! This has been so much (vexatious, exasperating, cranky-making, thesaurus-using) fun. And next month, the poetry continues with …Picasso? Stay tuned!


More Poetry Friday to be found at Tabatha’s blog The Opposite of Indifference. The curious and attentive should pop over and read more lovely poetry this blustery day! Happy Weekend!

14 Replies to “{pf: poetry 7 ♢ crowning our year with the elements}”

  1. I’ve finally made my way here to find it begins with the most wonderful introduction! I was not required to memorize the periodic table, but I was a nerd and did it on my own anyway.

    As the others have said, the third stanza is fantastic. I can’t emjamb worth a damn, so I bow down to you. But honestly, my favorite lines are: “What doesn’t kill us – staid in chemist’s hands,/Transformed through science into health’s allies –/Will strengthen, if the cure we can withstand.”

    There is so much truth in this sonnet. And beauty. And science.

  2. Sorry for the strange log-in, with Google! I love how you pushed us into the good, the bad, and the ugly in your sonnet. There’s much history of exploration in this row, isn’t there? This ending is my favorite: “So heirs of strength, persist in courage bold”. We are grateful for those who do persist!

  3. Tanita, you always make me smile, even as you describe your own (and my) anguish. I am sure I was supposed to learn the Periodic Table in HS, just as you. I remember that blanked out quiz with pain. I also squeaked by with a c-, but I thought it was because of the sink fire. Maybe it was that quiz after all…

    Your poem is delightful! I agree with the sisters, your stanzas build delightfully to that wonderful golden closing couplet. Lovely!

  4. I was with you in death over the thought of this. And this line made me guffaw just now (sorry, kitty, please come back to my lap!), and is just how I felt: “I might not be able to figure out what Hafnium does, but by golly, I can count to fourteen.” You are a brilliant alchemist, dear friend, and I loved your entire poem. That third stanza, which enjambs its way into the closing couplet, shines.

  5. Tanita — Your introduction kills me. I was at least as daunted as you were when we launched this. But we did it! And you did with lines like :
    The intellect, that bright quicksilver streak
    Of those who sought the elements to tame
    Theory to fact, persistence scales the peak
    Of ignorance, lends wings to wisdom’s flame

    I MEAN, as you would say, srsly!!!
    xxooxoxo

    1. Liz, you’re so funny – you’re all merriment and can-do so I never KNOW you’re inwardly going, “Argh!” I make sure EVERYONE knows I’m flipping out. (It’s a gift.) But together, we really pulled it off, and I’m still really floored at your beautiful turns of phrase, so go, us! Non-Scientific Poets Writing Science, Unite!

  6. Your whole third quatrain just makes me fall in love with words, Tanita. And the first one plus your mention about cancer really made me sit in my head with my mom for a few minutes. She’s done both chemo and radiation. Talk about friends close and enemies closer. You always make me thing! Lovely to write with you–xoxo

    1. You truly challenged us to step up – so thank you for suggesting this. This reminds me that there is never a limb too far to go out on! For us – or for the biochemists who keep our loved ones alive. Here’s to the bold going where no one else has gone, for the good of us all.

  7. I adore how you leave us with the image of moving from lead into gold. It’s a pipe dream in alchemy, but in poetry? Piece o’ cake! (Har har)

    Truly, it reminds me how often we think a topic is “leaden” or “dull” or that our first words on the page are that, as well. And yet…with time and care…and the help of sisters…things shine. They do. And I’m grateful for that. And for you. And to write poetry WITH you. What a lovely thing.

    1. I like that. We do shine each other up — and occasionally shine each other on as we say, “Oh, no, this chemistry topic for poetry is FINE!” Heh. I’m always surprised when we pull it off, but it astonishes me how beautifully done it is. We’re kind of amazing.

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