731: no name in the street

731: no name in the street

731: no name in the street


I’m Nate Marshall and this is The Slowdown.

I come from a nicknaming people. There are people I’ve known virtually my entire life who I could not look up by their legal name. Some of those people are related to me and some are so close they may as well be. Growing up, sometimes this would cause little moments of trouble.

I might have asked to go over to a neighborhood friend’s house but not know their last name or any of the necessary particulars. You might have gotten your bike ridden away by a bigger kid and when asked his name you didn’t realize until that moment that whatever you called him was obviously an absurd invention of youthful self-creation.

Even my own name, though common, is a nickname of sorts. My given name is Nathaniel, pronounced by my mother as Nay-thaniel. Nate is one of those names that got applied to me in the casual moments of adolescence and stuck so thoroughly it became the name under which I publish and often introduce myself. Still, most of my family and my oldest or closest friends call me Nathaniel, and I admit, I like it. Nate is who you all know. Nathaniel is maybe someone more insular.

Today’s poem takes that alchemy of renaming and considers it from multiple moments of vulnerability.

n̶o̶ ̶n̶a̶m̶e̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶s̶t̶r̶e̶e̶t̶
by Aurielle Marie

they called him Money 
& he had none. ion even
gotta tell you how funny that
aint. they called him June
mint or, that June, he tasted of
pepper. i forget. i remember
they called his hands to the front
the smoke was thick & 
the bullets carved—
no. he had a name. i think
it was dark & my mouth 
let out a sound & suddenly
there he was. grinning over
the sound of artillery &
bruise-laughter. you rang?
& i never asked for help
but i ended up saved. anyway
someone told me he died
casually. like the world 
swallowed his noise & gave
us the broth to recall him by.
i laid with him & never
told no one. never called him
nothing but a cool blush of smoke.
he asked me to gift him a way
out, a name to be welcomed home
inside & i couldn’t offer anything up,
not even all me. anyway.
someone told me he died
casually. i called him up
& ask is it true? he say something
bout there being no war in the blues.
he aint answer my question. directly
after, the whole room got to
smelling like pepper. like June.
gun powder in a Ferguson
sky. & i be damned. there aint
no word to call this what it is

"n̶o̶ ̶n̶a̶m̶e̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶s̶t̶r̶e̶e̶t̶" from GUMBO YA YA by Aurielle Marie, © 2021. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.