Chemical Make-up


Chemical Make-up

Let the kids curl
around Heny Swarzfigger, who could pull
a nickel from his ear,
rolling the r’s in his

He knew that magic words
ended in -ide or -ate,
even -ic (hydrochloric), – ium (potassium),
and, okay, sometimes -ur–(only sulfur
he laughed with that squashed grin
that masked the jokes no one else
ever got, was more of a

and that the shine on his brown basement
bottles, his beakers (mason jars)
and the true test tubes–three had come
with his first set and only one
had exploded–was brighter than even a coin
made out of gold (Au), though nickel (Ni)
was pretty neat stuff–good
for alloys and sea green–and he pushed up
the wire bridge of his glasses, and, for a moment,
the small round lenses were portholes
through which he could see waves
of mounded nickel compound, crystalline
aquamarine, though actually
more granulated–

and he’d been a sh–sh–shy boy
even before the TB took him so long away,
blanketing him, the only child, in a far cold place,
its windows flung open
even to snow–
it was the froth he liked especially,
that free-form fizz that sometimes whizzed
beyond prediction, a lava let loose,
that could, he knew, if he made a single
mistake, burn more
than his remaining
eyebrows, that might even
curl up the planked stairwell,
engulf the still upstairs, dissolving everything
in its place up there, the irrefutable proof
that all came down to atoms
colliding with
his mother’s firm tidiness, till the bubbling roar
pushed its way outdoors–

Oh, then, the kids would have something to see, he thought,
now squinting in the halo of bunsen burner,
the blue glow of incipient reaction.


Another draftish too-long sort of poem. This one is for Herotomost’s lovely prompt on “mah thing” when young, posted on With Real Toads.  In this case, I chose to write about my dad’s thing, chemistry  My dad was a very shy child, intensely devoted to his lab.  This may have come from being an only child, who had tuberculosis at age 7, which required him to spend two years away from home in a sanatorium.  The drawing as is the case with most on this blog is mine.  All rights reserved. 

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12 Comments on “Chemical Make-up”

  1. Kerry O'Connor Says:

    I was really taken up by this story, Karin.

    for a moment,
    the small round lenses were portholes
    through which he could see…

    You have given us all a glimpse through his spectacles to appreciate the wonder of an inquiring mind.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks, Kerry. I feel like I’ve been a little bit overly prolific lately! A sign of stress maybe but thanks. k.

      On Sun, Oct 26, 2014 at 11:16 AM, ManicDDaily wrote:


  2. brian miller Says:

    he sounds like a really neat character…reminds me a bit of my great uncle…he lost a finger in iran and was always blaming us for taking it…but he would work a bit of magic for us…not quite chemistry but….smiles.

  3. this whole poem was enchanting…

    love the idea of a childhood hobby. how this child might have seen the world on a much deeper, meaningful, level than his/her peers.


    stacy lynn mar

  4. hedgewitch Says:

    This is an interesting perspective, and a loving one, looking back on the childhood of a parent is, of necessity, an act of imagination. But in a way of course, their stories are our stories, and there we find what makes us ourselves. AFA prolific, when the words are there, we must uses them, to make up for the times when they hide. Enjoyed this much, k.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks. I’m about to post another long not-great poem, but I wrote it this week, and will just put it up for my own benefit, though I really don’t want to burden others.

      My father in fact became a chemist and chemistry remained his lifelong love. k.

  5. mhwarren Says:

    Our friend was in a TB hospital for 2 years as well and we fostered her new born baby girl while she was away. I loved the way you told your Dad’s story.

  6. coalblack Says:

    I love this, you captured a time in someone’s life perfectly.

  7. herotomost Says:

    I love the family connection and that awesome drawing. I appreciate that you almost always post for my challenges…makes me smile. Sounds like your dad was quite the man and I think that his obsession is one I would enjoy as well if I was just a little better at the math aspect of Great work and thanks again for writing for my prompt!

  8. grapeling Says:

    so, the drawing is of pop-a-phant? a charming story which cuts rather uncomfortably close to home (though I never had TB) ~

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