Prompts sometimes send me in a completely different direction than the prompter intended. For example, this week Brendan over at Earthweal came up with the following prompt/challenge
Honor an element and invite it to our poetry commons

and although I knew he actually meant sun, wind, rain etc, I immediately thought of The Periodic Table of Elements , yes Brendan’s prompt got me into an elemental mood


When I think of Antimony
I think of acrimony
and Scott McTominay
who plays for Manchester United
and Scotland
then I think of carbon and oxygen
and their troublesome offspring
carbon dioxide
and I think it’s hard to write about chemistry
and not sound like a geek
then I think of copper and lithium
and how we need these elements
to make the batteries to power our electric cars
and how we will have to drag these elements from the earth
by means both fair and foul,
but mostly foul.
Then I think of the time I spent
in a copper smelter in southern Peru
trying to start a system for extracting sulfur dioxide
from the smelter off gas
ahh sulfur dioxide the product of a back alley encounter
between sulfur and oxygen
what is it about oxygen
it just won’t leave those other elements alone
geek on, geek on.

The operators of the smelter
were the descendants of the Incas and the conquistadores
and sometimes both
one night I spent a whole shift
with an operator who had the features
and head of an Easter Island statue
he spoke no English
my Spanish was poor
it was a long night
I wasn’t in my element.
In the mornings
after these night shifts
I would drive back to the fishing village
where we were staying
in a house the locals called Casa Gringo
I would drive past the huge pipe
discharging effluent into the blue ocean
and always there were vultures circling the outflow
and perched on the pipe.
I would drive past a patch of waste ground
the size of two football fields
covered in waste metal and other debris from the smelter,
(hello, arsenic, my old friend)
and always there were scavengers
combing through this mess
and what did I learn from all this
I learnt that the devil is always in the details
the devil is always in the details
and the footprint must be managed.

8 thoughts on “Elementals

  1. Suzanne

    What a terrific poem. I really enjoyed the first verse then the second took off in a totally different direction and I could relate your experience and your acute understanding of how we must stop and think about what we are doing to this planet.
    I’m glad you let the prompt take off in another direction. I did the same thing with this prompt and wrote about my experience of Findhorn. I didn’t publish it but maybe I will after having read yours.


  2. Sherry Marr

    “Geek on” made me smile. Gah re the effluent pouring into the ocean – as it does in so many places, so unenlightened are we. Your closing lines give a powerful message. Loved this read!



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