I Will Dissolve Gold

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Cobalt Co, 27

by Julia Klatt Singer

The color I bruise,
the color of blood,
the color of dusk,
of knowing,
of longing.

I hold my breath –
imagine you;
the color of your eyes – the color
of the sea, of crickets,
of music of me.

The color stars turn
when they realize
they are not

It is the 150th anniversary this week of the periodic table, that much seems to be accepted. But which chemist should actually get credit for that leap forward in thinking is a bit more muddled. More than one scientist contributed to early versions, Dmitri Mendeleev most often credited, but Alexandre-Emile Béguyer de Chancourtois and Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier both could lay claim to significant contributions as well. As often happens with science, innovation happens simultaneously on multiple fronts and when history is written someone gets lead credit for what is really a mashup of combined brilliance. Regardless, the periodic table was a leap forward in thinking about how to align and describe elements based on their atomic weight and atomic structure, so accurate in its depiction that it would predict elements that wouldn’t be found until well into the future.

Julia Klatt Singer, a Minneapolis poet, and longtime friend, used the periodic table as inspiration to create poetry that is elemental in its humanness and empathy.  I picked two poems from her new collection; Cobalt because it is fourteen lines and a beautiful poem and Nitrogen because she nailed it.  I also picked Nitrogen because it has the largest impact of all elements in increasing crop yields.

Nitrogen is the most plentiful gas in our atmosphere. By volume, the air we breathe contains 78.09% nitrogen, 20.95%oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.04% carbon dioxide, and small amounts of other gases and water vapor. Despite nitrogen being abundant all around us, the ability to synthesize it efficiently and effectively from the atmosphere was a threat to humanity’s ability to feed the planet early in the 20th Century. Several European governments offered a significant monetary reward to the first scientist who could crack the code and find a way to produce ammonia abundantly from the air. Fritz Haber rose to that challenge and figured out in 1909 that with the right combination of heat, pressure and specific catalyst it was possible to break the bonds of N2 gas and create NH3 (ammonia). Carl Bosch built on Haber’s invention and figured out how to produce ammonia and anhydrous ammonia NH4NO3 on a industrial scale, making nitrogen fertilizer inexpensive and plentiful as well providing one of the key building blocks for the entire modern chemical industry possible today.  Haber was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1918 for his part and Bosch the Nobel Prize in 1931.

In 100 years, the world’s population has grown from 1.5 billion to over 7 billion, largely because of the increase in crop yields through improved crop nutrition with nitrogen the most significant driving force. To maximize yields sustainably crops need balanced crop nutrition, with Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium fertilizers the most important contributors to improving crop production in our modern era.  It is ironic that famine and hunger are so distant in our memory for most in the developed world that there are those that now consider fertilizer and specifically nitrogen fertilizer an optional luxury. If we attempted to feed the world through the current definitions of “organic” certification, we would rapidly be on a path towards declining soil productivity, wide spread food shortages and famine unless we all put our hands in the middle and agreed to all be vegetarians and give up feeding livestock and eating meat, eggs and milk. Long term research trials have shown that up to 60 percent of crops yield is directly influenced by fertilizer and crop nutrition and it is that increase in yield that has made it possible for populations to rise along with greater economic prosperity in the past 100 years. That’s not to say we can’t improve efficiency with which crops use fertilizer or reduce losses into rivers and lakes through better timing and placement of fertilizer, but a world in which fertilizer is not abundant is a world of food scarcity and conflict. There’s an old saying, “First world countries have lots of problems.  Third world countries have only one problem – how to provide the basic necessities to feed their citizens.”  So as you read Klatt-Singer’s poem below, think about how the miracle of our ability to produce ammonia from nitrogen in the atmosphere and how that impacts political stability today and into the future.

For more information on the periodic table, including Julia Klatt Singer own placement on the chart with the element of surprise, check out this website: https://openkim.org/

Enjoy and go to Prolific Press to order a copy of Elemental for yourself.



Nitrogen N, 7

by Julia Klatt Singer

I am Nitrogen tonight,

colorless – tasteless – relatively rare
 .          . always causing difficulty.

But useful
when I burn or decay.

You cannot wash me away,
I make the ocean my bed.

Prefer moons
that have atmosphere.

I am impure.

I will dissolve gold.

Published by

A Sonnet Obsession

I am a life-long Minnesotan who resides in Minneapolis. I hope you enjoy my curated selection of sonnets, short poems and nerdy ruminations. I am pleased to offer Fourteenlines as an ad and cookie free poetry resource, to allow the poetry to be presented on its own without distractions. Fourteenlines is a testament to the power of the written word, for anyone wanting a little more poetry in their life.

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