Body Positive Book Reading Club

Spiritus Pizza and Other Poems

By Dennis Rhodes
Vital Links Media, Provincetown, Massachusetts, 2000

I started becoming a "real" writer on the day I realized that no one in my lifetime might ever read or appreciate what I've written. And I decided that was just fine! My personal belief in God and my own private, nurturing spirituality gave me a sure and unshakable sense that someday -- perhaps after my death -- people would embrace my poetry. And somehow I'd know it. This was an extraordinarily liberating revelation! It helped me calm and assuage my healthy ego and it helped me seek out my very own place, however modest, in the highly charged, enormously creative constellation of poets. I began to find my own voice when I accepted that no one might be listening. So what. The need to express was paramount. I express myself as readily as I break into a sweat on a summer day. I eat. I sleep. I love. I think. I feel. I provoke. I react. I write poetry. That's life.

Rejection -- another important force in my life! One day something or someone mystical whispered into my ear the elemental truth that how I handle rejection will color and shape my identity as a man and my fruitfulness as a writer. Kipling's line always resonated with me: "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/And treat those two impostors just the same." I came to realize that my talent is just as much a part of me as my eyes, my laugh, the pesky lisp that happens when I talk, the slight, almost childlike bounce in my walk. Again, my innate spirituality helped me realize that my talent is a gift, to be fearlessly expressed and as fully realized as possible. If a poem I've written somehow finds its way into a reader's heart -- and makes a difference -- that may be no thanks at all to an editor who read it, rejected it, and sent it back to me.

Only to have me send it right back out to another editor who might be more wise (or dumb?), more forgiving, or simply more willing to take risks, to give someone a break. I have a profound yearning to hear the word yes. It's my favorite word. If you use the word yes at least three times more than you use the word no, then you're probably a happy person!

I live in Provincetown after being raised in the New York area and after a 17-year career in the famously cutthroat PR business. I had the privilege -- and it was fabulous let me tell you -- to live on the Upper West Side in the late-seventies and all through the fabled eighties. I was a kid when I moved to 51 West 76th Street in 1979. Life was lived at a breakneck pace. I stayed out till all hours, drank like Ernest Hemingway and loved like a male Holly Golightly. I will never apologize for romanticizing that time and place -- as rich and vital, as exhilarating and as heartless (sometimes) as Isherwood's Berlin. It was a mere ten years after Stonewall and gays were making quantum leaps socially and culturally.

Then, AIDS. A scourge so cruel that it not only killed, but diminished the lives of those it left behind. Incalculable damage. Convulsive grief. So many lives blown off course, including mine. I doubt I would have ever left the huckstering business without HIV. I would not have found Body Positive and I would not in time have transplanted my life and spirit to Provincetown. To date, I have stood and stared the virus down. It's an unfinished story. It's a memory-in-progress. It's a poem, irritating and defiant, with a life of its own, making my fingers tremble. Demanding to be written.

'Spiritus Pizza and Other Poems' by Dennis Rhodes

Spiritus Pizza 2 AM

For Jeff

I think more keenly of the dead
when the moon is full -- don't know why.
Tonight is thick with the ashes
of five thousand spirited young men.
The wind is poison, rousing loved ones
mournfully scattered on fine lawns,
laid in gardens irrigated
by tears. I recognize a friend
in the warm and peppery breeze
toying with my ear, mocking me
for standing among the living:
a most unwitting example
of loneliness. He always said he would
haunt me. He always said
he would make a fabulous ghost
and find me wherever I am
to remind me what an asshole
I can be when I take my life
too seriously for his taste.
He messes my hair, kisses me
on the neck and he gives me the chill
up my spine like said he would.
A promise kept. Off with the boys
in a sudden gust -- forever
unsettled, stirring up trouble.


My bathroom scale and I
have terrible fights, nasty altercations.
My bathroom scale and I
don't get along anymore.
So many years of mindless losing
have made life awfully confusing
now that losing is not the idea --

Summer: lose 10. Hot date: lose 5
New Suit: 5 more! Years and years
of less being more. Life and desire
measured in pounds, a slave to the miser
on the bathroom floor weighing the life
of naked man, wickedly mechanical
sadistic, inhuman   nothing but members
judging my flesh   discounting my soul --

How can I blame you? I wanted less
I cursed you, thinking happiness
was somehow at stake --
ever at your mercy
a battle of wills
a give and take
a senseless stalemate
I could not break

I need you now
I need you to give
and give and give   I need
your pounds   I could live
with less and I stand
dripping wet wanting my ribs
to vanish under a mound
of flesh! O give me a pound
old friend, give me five
can I count on you
to keep me alive?

Spiritus Pizza

Disappointed cruisers drift by for a slice.
One spurned pigeon on a phone wire overhead
Is joined by another, alighting with an elegant shrug
of wing, smoothing feathers just recently
plumed and proud --
now ruffled by the playful, indifferent wind.
These first swift, self-conscious arrivals soon give way
to hundreds, each with a steely, resolute grip
on the taut black wire, all understanding
and accepting the need for the perfect silence.
Below, the scent of a thousand exotic colognes
clashes with the earthy, reassuring aroma
of tomatoes and cheese. The contest is joined:
How may will break rank, and swoop for glory?
How many will keep a deathwatch on the night?

Provincetown, 1995

Dennis Rhodes is the Poetry and Fiction Editor of Body Positive_. This volume,_ Spiritus Pizza and Other Poems_, can be ordered at or by calling 1-508-487-0848._

Back to the April 2001 Issue of Body Positive Magazine.