The Mechanics of Food Assistance in a Grocery Store Line – Dennis Etzel Jr.

Photo: Peter Bond

what is taking so long? someone asks
with plastic card in hand
I will still hand over supplemental checks
like nails that board up a boat

I call them life savers out of need
even for these staples
while a scan and rescan of each item
ensures eligibility because even if WIC stickers

are misplaced on the shelves the register
has the final say and I am ready so ready
to turn around if someone gives me the drill
or again remarks it must be nice to get free food

I’ll iron out their words with my defenses
hey I’m a working professor and father
adding how I qualify as poor how my wife and I
were drilled at the food assistance office

hammered by every question
from someone who speaks in the tone
of a kindergarten teacher so my boys
will have food at the end of the month

unlike so many children in this town
even the retired chaplain who overheard
kids could get a free lunch
said why don’t they get a job


Dennis Etzel Jr. lives in Topeka, Kansas with Carrie and the boys where he teaches English at Washburn University. His work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, BlazeVOX, Fact-Simile, 1913: a journal of poetic forms, 3:AM, Tarpaulin Sky, DIAGRAM, and others.


This poem is from our first print collection
of poetry,  “Thought For Food”, an anthology
benefiting Denver Food Rescue. To support
our fundraiser, please visit this link.

Thought For Food Promotional 1

My Mother’s Recipe – Jovan Mays & Mallary McHenry Jr.

Photo: Emma Frances Logan

When we were young
we didn’t appreciate our mother’s cooking.
We would stare at the plate
willing broccoli to GO AWAY.
But today is different.

I remember hearing Cindy Lawrie
ask for the recipe of her favorite dish
& my mother explained
that she could not duplicate this.
This was my mother’s bread of sorrows.

I remember it.
She said,
“when makin’ sweet bread
we need a bowl the size of Birmingham.
Make sure it’s not segregated
I want everyone to feast.”

She would say,
“My butter was churned by hand.
Milked from my motherland.
Takin’ the same milk of my history,
diluting my people to livestock,
skimming off the backs of blacks
to build Antebellum houses
that made the South
want to rise again like cornbread.”

She wasn’t just a cook in that kitchen.
Full time doctor-alchemist-magician.
She could make that cream
cook, cleanse, & cure.

When friends asked her about margarine,
She laughed, said
“Margarine is made of pretty things”
40 acres & a mule,
equality, reparations,
straight hair, & freedom.
Things that just were not real.

So no!
She did not use margarine
She used butter
thick, unrelenting,
get-all-over-everything butter.
the kind you have to strain to bind.

Like sitting in the back of balconies & buses.
“Churn it”
Like having dry ice thrown at her
because she was a different type of sugar.
“Churn it more”

Sometimes she would have to take over for me.
Because I didn’t understand that she was erasing the past with
Every. Single. Agitation.
Wondering why she would tear up.
“You have to churn it, boy!”

‘Till the south is too suppressed to rise.
‘Till it’s white & entitled
like Bull Connor’s tank in an all-black neighborhood.
Like them shepherds k9’s sinking into our skin.

“Beat it!
So they can’t see the darkness in this meal.
Beat it!
Like a white hood just appeared in this room.
Let me show you how painful this is.”

& she refuses to forget,
because going through restaurant drive-thru windows
still feels like you’re going around the back.

& you wonder why you need water to wash this down.
Because if you didn’t, you would feel the countless
Butter-worth Jemimas climbing your esophagus
with wooden spoons & spatulas.

Wash it down
until your gut feels like a hull.
Bet you didn’t know that in the belly of your ship
there were grunts paddling your digestion
no wonder it’s called the Middle Passage.

To this day I wonder what kept her
cooking for friends like Cindy Lawrie.
What kept her from back handing them every time
they asked her “Alfreda what did you put in this?”
or “Mrs. McHenry” can I get that recipe?”

She would always say,
“Give thanks to God for all things”
The good & the bad.
Martin Luther King Jr. & James Earl Ray.
John Brown & Jim Crow.
Shining steeples & burnt crosses.

makes her flour.
It’s forgiveness.
Forgiveness isn’t big on measuring.
Forgiveness isn’t big on accuracy.
Just like my momma.

A pinch of salt here.
Like her father waiting
at Sears and Roebucks until
closing before whites would
let him buy clothes.

A sprinkle of sugar there.
Her remembering the day
she was allowed to enter a library
alongside white people.

In the spirit of Nat Turner, Emmet Till, 4 little girls.
Momma is whisking together gender & race.
Hopes & dreams.
The past to the present.

& the secret, she told us was,
“Son, just keep tasting
‘till you get the flavor you want.
Until, there are no more tears.
Just keep tasting
until the anger becomes harmonious.
Just keep tasting
until the sadness becomes savory.
Just. Keep. Tasting.”

But this isn’t store bought processed white bread.
& now Cindy Lawrie you can have this recipe.
But you still can’t make this dish


Mallary McHenry Jr. (Poet Without Apology) and Jovan Mays were members of  Denver’s Slam Nuba, a nationally ranked poetry slam team. Both have a mutual passion for poetry and helping those in need.  “My Mother’s Recipe” is a poem dedicated to Mrs. McHenry and all the women who grew up feeling the weight of Jim Crow. Their life experiences cooked into every meal and their recipes cannot be duplicated without understanding the struggles that made them


This poem is from our first print collection
of poetry,  “Thought For Food”, an anthology
benefiting Denver Food Rescue. To support
our fundraiser, please visit this link.

Thought For Food Promotional 1

Alphabet Soup – Nate Ragolia

Image: Kon Karampelas

Buried corn spilt milk
What good is a food system
when it doesn’t feed?

Can you believe it? We’re actually throwing away tens of millions of pounds of fresh vegetables, fruits? We’re doing it because “it can’t be moved” and “nothing is EVER free.” But couldn’t we make some Alphabet Soup? Job the jobless, move the food, set a new goal that if we have so much that we’d trash it we’d be smarter and kinder and truer to Greatness by finding every open mouth and grumbling gut and filling them with sustenance—if rarely meaning, here—because there’d be at least one bold checkmark in the WIN column? Think of the Ratings! MILLIONS RE-EMPLOYED TO DO SOMETHING PURPOSEFUL, MILLIONS MORE NOT STARVING IN THE CORNERS AND NOOKS OF OUR PREPOSTEROUS OPULENCE.

Oh, The Supply Chain!
Chickens dead, landfills filling
Waste not? Want! Always.

nate & rocket

Nate Ragolia is Co-Founder of Spaceboy Books LLC., a Denver-based indie sci-fi press. He’s also Editor-in-Chief of BONED: A Collection of Skeletal Writings. His two books, There You Feel Free and The Retroactivist express his ongoing frustrations with economic systems designed to leave people behind. And he’s hopeful that things can still be changed for the better in his lifetime.


This poem is from our first print collection
of poetry,  “Thought For Food”, an anthology
benefiting Denver Food Rescue. To support
our fundraiser, please visit this link.

Thought For Food Promotional 1

How the Sunflower Practices a Distancing – Maria S. Picone

Photo: Mona Eendra

Fortifying her core, she sips a poverty of water,
muting the fresh-corn brilliance of her body
with white curtains. She awaits a joy bobbin
to hover at her concentric breast. She knows
a scarred Saturday implies renewal.
Instincts tell her: wait, respire, listen.
Turning her face skyward, she takes
her mother’s gifts: rain, the hum of bees.

Picone Headshot

Maria S. Picone has an MFA from Goddard College. She’s interested in cultural issues, identity, and memory. As a Korean adoptee in an Italian American family and a New Englander, her obsessions with noodles, seafood, and the ocean are hardly her fault. Her poetry appears in Homestead Review, Ariel Chart, Headline Poetry, Mineral Lit Mag, and Route 7 Review. Her Twitter is @mspicone, and her website is


This poem is from our first print collection
of poetry,  “Thought For Food”, an anthology
benefiting Denver Food Rescue. To support
our fundraiser, please visit this link.

Thought For Food Promotional 1

An Other Revolution – Yuan Changming

Photo: Alp Ancel

As giant ants march ahead in nightly arrays
Demonstrating against the ruling humans
Along the main street of every major city
Hordes of hordes of vampires flood in, screaming
Aloud, riding on hyenas and
Octopuses, waving skeletons
In their hairy hands, whipping at old werewolves
Or all-eyed aliens standing by
With their blood-dripping tails

Gathering behind the masses are ghosts and spirits
Of all the dead, victims of fatal diseases
Murders, rapes, tortures, wars, starvation, plagues
Led by deformed devils and demons
As if in an uprising, to seek revenge
On every living victor in the human shape
Some smashing walls and fences, others
Barbecuing human hearts like inflated frogs
Still others biting at each other’s soul around black fires
All in a universal storm of ashes and blood

Up above in the sky is a red dragon flying by
With a heart infected by the human virus


Yuan Changming edits Poetry Pacific with Allen Yuan in Vancouver. Credits include  ten Pushcart nominations, Jodi Stutz Award in Poetry (2020) & publications in Best of the Best Canadian Poetry (2008-17) & BestNewPoemsOnline, among others across 45 countries. 


This poem is from our first print collection
of poetry,  “Thought For Food”, an anthology
benefiting Denver Food Rescue. To support
our fundraiser, please visit this link.

Thought For Food Promotional 1


Things you don’t say at the dinner table, which in my case growing up was anything. – Bruce Sterling

Image: Federica Campanaro

I avoided speaking for fear of communication
or maybe humiliation.
I didn’t know how to talk
or specifically
to speak their language without reprisal.

Slipping up in our household was tantamount to losing
and losing was bad
and bad is how I felt
for much of my life.
See shame runs deep
in my family
coincidentally is quite a shame.

Image may contain: 1 person

Who is this Bruce Sterling character? Some call him philosopher, some call him dad. Nobody calls him a poet but that doesn’t stop him from crafting lines into something just about good enough to read. Without any formal training he seems to hold his own at the beloved Writer’s Block’s weekly writing events. He’s known to say, “Spending time with the poetry community is the only sane thing to do in this world. It fosters creativity, acceptance and huge amounts of love and frankly not much else matters.” Bruce is published in Spit Poet and Writer’s Block zines.

This poem is from our first print collection
of poetry,  “Thought For Food”, an anthology
benefiting Denver Food Rescue. To support
our fundraiser, please visit this link.

Thought For Food Promotional 1

The Return – Melissa Ferrer

Photo: Bogomil Mihaylov

The first nine months
Of our life
Was spent
In quarantine
Nurtured by the wisdom
Of our mother’s mothers
Nutrified by the Earth
As one being in body
In nature.
Symbol of continuation.

Have we not returned
Awareness to the womb
In these times
Seek the divine dark
From which the spark of life
Was bourne?

Have we not sought
The wisdom of those who came
Before separation
Before degradation
And desecration of mind
And spirit?

Have we not embraced
The girth of the earth
Beneath our feet?
Learn of what this bigness
Be. Hear what the bees
Buzz; news
Of the Ancient Ascent
And the absence
Of each.

Uttered in tongue
And misidentified meaning
Ideological demons
Occupying the homes
Turned house–
The bodies
Turned louse–
Prophet of death
And termination
Living in the fauna
Of our mouths.

Hands balled into fists
Tightness taught us
To savor our anger
As a way to resist
The falling dominoes
And kingdoms
Devoid of glory and
fortified, sanctified
Tumbling– remains
Creating another story–
Debris, and crumbs
Of those numbed
Translated as the way
To salvation.
And thus, the birth of this new nation.

Always and always
More and more
Preaching the gospel of lonely
And fragmentation
Disintegration of awareness
Assimilation of fear
Abandonment of what is
In search of what was never there—
Perfection in the flesh
Salvation in what we can hold
What we can mold
From our dastardly desires—
…………..A kingdom foretold
…………..Whose fall approaches.

In the wombs of our rooms
Let us croon ourselves into
Into carry
Into hold
Let us sing, sing, sing
Lullabies of light light light
And drift,        drift,                     drift
into the silence of the Darkness
That brought us to be

Behind every word that we speak
Let us abandon every pit-
……………………………………………ting against

Form us into I
Into one
Into yo soy
Io sono
Je suis

Daughter and Son
Husband and Wife
Mother and Father
Sister and Brother
Divinity made flesh
Oneness in our chest
And from this cavity
…………………………………..—this hollow—
That breathes
Blood and remembrance
Let us grow our seeds.


Melissa Ferrer is a renegade with hippie tendencies.  Through poetry she seeks to provide a sense of solidarity to all people, encourage people to act unto peace and love, and foster community among both the like and unlike minded. Recently, she’s been yearning to set down her ego and replace it with a jubilation of the spirit. She wants you to join in, in whatever capacity you can.


This poem is from our first print collection
of poetry,  “Thought For Food”, an anthology
benefiting Denver Food Rescue. To support
our fundraiser, please visit this link.

Thought For Food Promotional 1

Ars Poetica: Access – Cortney Collins

Photo: Alice Donavan Rouse

An award-winning photojournalist once told me

anyone can learn to take a good photo.

It’s not technique.

It’s access.


to a riot breaking out on an angry street.

to a woman who has just lost her finger
climbing over a chain-link fence
crossing the border into Texas.

to the dusty rubble,
and everything beneath,
moments after a bomb
has incinerated a home.

to a sun-washed bedroom
where a seven year old child
has just died of cancer
in his mother & father’s arms.

Poetry is not just metaphor and meter,
allegory and alliteration.

Poetry is access:

to the secret hobbies of protozoans.

to the color of chlorophyll.

to the lover you secretly yearn for
but know will destroy you.

to enough magic to bring
your cat back from a velvet
bag of ashes embroidered
with his name.

A poem can only be

what it can access.

Cortney Collins is a poet living in Longmont, CO. A four-time winner of Fort Collins’ First Friday Poetry Slam at The Bean Cycle, her work has been published by South Broadway Ghost Society, Amethyst Review, Devil’s Party Press, Back Patio Press, 24hr Neon Mag, The Naropa Vagina Monologues Zine, and is forthcoming in Tiny Spoon Lit Mag. During these strange and surreal times, she hosts a weekly poetry virtual open mic, Zoem. She shares a home with her beloved cat, Pablo, and tries to eat just the right amount of kale.


This poem is from our first print collection
of poetry,  “Thought For Food”, an anthology
benefiting Denver Food Rescue. To support
our fundraiser, please visit this link.

Thought For Food Promotional 1

Zombie Apocalypse – Gerry Sloan

image 4
Image: Brian McGowen

Our grandchildren are in the vanguard
of human evolution, autism possibly
the latest mutation, since change
has one leg up on adaptation.
Trouble is, the microbes
mutate faster than we do
and have had more practice.
In the matter of intelligence they
have outguessed us more than once.
It will require our best to see this through.
The past two Halloweens
my autistic grandson has gone
trick-or-treating as a hazmat zombie,
as if he owned a crystal ball
for the coronavirus.
Maybe we should turn our welfare
over to children, who might be
more adaptable than
millionaires over seventy
masquerading as world leaders.



Gerry Sloan is a poet and musician living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He has two poetry collections: Paper Lanterns (2011) and Crossings: A Memoir in Verse (2017), recent work appearing in Elder Mountain, Cave Region Review, Xavier Review, and Slant. He often defaults to hot tea and old movies for solace.

Mo(u)rning Run – Ashley Bunn

blue bricks
Image: Jr Korpa

The squirrel’s insides were draining out of its mouth
again as the day before.
Expansion: slipping away its squirrel-ness,
the thick and red of it,
jelly from a donut.

As pavement moves beneath me,
my closed eyes reveal
my mother leaving our family dog to die alone.

My mother only saw one being die.
Her mother’s breath stumbling
death yellow in the
muted light.
The harsh rhythm of the monitor
beginning to flatten into a continuous scream.
She watched her brother crawl on top of the body,
seeing her brother’s tears for the first time.

In the shower the next day,
through salt and hard water,
she saw her mother with her.
Her naked body, whole,
My mother told me
that her mother’s breasts were
large and heavy and beautiful.
My mother is not usually so poetic.

Her brother would also die alone,
squatting on the damp concrete of
his father’s basement
or in
the fluorescent cave of the hospital.
My mind searches darkness
for details I’ve forgotten, or was
never told.
Sores for skin and holes for teeth.
The colorful toothbrush
I delivered to him
struggled against the
deep gray of his surroundings,
his broken-plate smile,
his voice thick with
gruff southern-ness.
I never saw his body
whole and complete
after he left.

Maybe his son saw him.

Air escapes
in fresh, burning bursts.
My body and mind turn
the corner.

My cousin,
born one day before me,
our baby hair matching,
fine and translucent.
His young body would
twist, and shake
knees kissing during late nights
of golden, childhood laughter.
The poster hanging on his
wall, beginning to fade.
Elvis’s slick black
hair almost white in places.

My cousin named his newborn
daughter Elena, and only knew
her a few short weeks
before he left.
Years of drowning led to
years of sobriety.
A girlfriend, stepdaughters.
What he called happiness,
through the digital blue of the screen.
Reaching out over miles
and years.
He wanted to
tell me about his life.
His baby.

The blood in my ears grows
louder as I near the end of my route.
Mind searching for a place
to hang my sadness.

No one ever confirmed
how or why he left.
Such a watery light.
Pale skin and summer freckles.
Pisces, double.
The end of the Zodiac
straddles the edge of the veil.
He was never here completely.

Two weeks after he left,
his daughter left too.
The light of the screen
again bringing its obituary,
its haunting.
The words,
“goodbye my angel”
all lowercase
raced toward me.
No capital letters
of devastation.
No place to hold greif.

The tightness in my chest twists
on each inhale.
Again, my closed eyes reveal
a picture of my cousin,
holding his newborn daughter.
Anxious curve of a smile,
a small bundle of pink.

Rubber presses the dark pavement in repetition.
The squirrel continues to shed its form.
When the flesh is gone, I am considering adding its bones to a shrine.
Small, white.
Solid and hard enough
to hold something.
This is the closest I have been to the process,
what happens after they leave.
I want to stay for the whole thing.


Ashley Howell Bunn is pursuing her MFA in poetry through Regis University where she is also a graduate writing consultant. She reads and helps develop community engagement for the literary journal Inverted Syntax. Her work has previously appeared in The Colorado Sun, the series Head Room Sessions, and more. When she isn’t writing, she teaches and practices yoga and runs a small personal business centered around healing. She lives in Denver, CO with her partner and child. Instagram: @howellandheal