The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Empty the Ocean with a Thimble by Elizabeth Kirkpatrick-Vrenios

This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Jordi Alonso, is from Empty the Ocean with a Thimble by Elizabeth Kirkpatrick-Vrenios, released by Word Poetry in 2021.

Notebook, 1906

The belch of the big engine in the ship's belly 
is the Kalavala monster in the stories 
Papa whispers to me each night. It roars 
like the mouth of the river 
near the wooden house we left behind.

Coal dust under our nails, in papa's mustache, 
between my teeth. Onnie,  finally quiet,  
sucks on Äiti's breast
and Äiti sings Laulaa laulaa. 
Cold is everywhere, pressing on us,
even my blue wool pusero can't keep me warm. 

I miss stones humming silver songs of Kullervo, 
the tuulen voice that intones the words of Kalevala 
and mountains singing the ground that makes my bones
soft with wonder. I miss grass 
and the faces of yellow flowers that shiver over my head. 
I miss the dirt path that dances up the hill to the sauna,  
where Papa's big iron brush 
makes the walls smell sweet 
like laipa that Äiti pulls from the small clay oven.

The horn blows and blows and hurts my ears, 
but Papa says that means we are arriving in Amerika. 
He holds me up to the round hole in the side of the big boat, 
and I see the biggest lady in the world
holding something over her head. 

The horn blows, Onnie cries,  
Äiti sings. Papa whispers I have to be a good girl 
and hold his hand and learn to speak English 
when we leave this dark space.  I can hardly wait to see 
what Amerika will look like.  
I hope it has lumi like Finland.

Äiti  = mother
pusero = sweater
tuulen = wind's
laipa = bread
lumi = snow

Elizabeth Kirkpatrick-Vrenios is professor emerita from American University in Washington DC, having chaired the vocal and music departments. Featured in Tupelo Press’s 30/30 challenge, she has been published in such journals as Clementine, American Journal of Poetry, Cumberland River Review, The Feminine Collective, The Kentucky Review, Into the Void, Unsplendid, Edison Literary Review, and Passager. Her chapbook Special Delivery, prize winner with Yellow Chair Press, was published in 2016, and her second chapbook released in April 2021, Empty the Ocean with a Thimble, by Word Tech Communications. As the artistic director of the Redwoods Opera in Mendocino, California, she has influenced and trained vocal students across the country.

Jordi Alonso holds degrees in English literature from Kenyon College (AB ’14) Stony Brook University (MFA ’16) and the University of Missouri (PhD ’21). He is currently a Classical Studies MA student at Columbia University. Honeyvoiced, his first book, was published by XOXOX Press in 2014 and his chapbook, The Lovers’ Phrasebook, was published by Red Flag Poetry Press in 2017. His work appears in Kenyon Review Online, Banyan Review, Levure Littéraire, and other journals. Follow him on Twitter @nymphscholar or get to know his work at

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