Go In Clean, Come Out Dirty

Go In Clean, Come Out Dirty

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Clean, dirty, transformed—Kevin Minh Allen’s Go In Clean, Come Out Dirty puts a magnifying glass on what seems to be mere minutiae, elevating the smallness of details that build up into larger territories of home, belonging, and liminality. Allen paints pastoral landscapes in the U.S. and in Viet Nam on a canvas of clay, grass, trees, wind, roots, hilltops, and holes. The scenes frame a dual and fragmented identity for the Amerasian adoptee poet, who breathes urgency into the transience and legacy of war and resettlement. Allen brings the reader into the bellies of bomb craters and the mouths of rivers East and West. Grouped into three parts, the poems reveal the expectations and realities underneath the fossils of memory and mystery.

Uniform Code

The only way I know how to keep you safe, under the circumstances,
is to sell you out of this war to big men with wads of cash
in exchange for cartons of cigarettes in their rucksacks.

Pastor Nhien told us to lie on the blanks on the paperwork,
that you are an orphan, suffering from TB.
But before handing you over we re-counted the cash in the envelope.
We need to buy more formula, diapers, and five pounds of rice
before the week is over.

If only I could tell you how things are here, you’d know
there is a reason for all this.
If only you could smell the anguish and touch the bleeding like I do
out on these dim street corners and dank alleyways.
If only you could hear the cries of the crippled lying on plastic mats
down by the river’s edge.

If only I could...
If only we could...

But, enough of my crying...

You’re not being sent away, little one, for anything you’ve done.
My only prayer is that you’ll never get wind of how much all this has
cost us.


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