cover image Pallbearers Envying the One Who Rides

Pallbearers Envying the One Who Rides

Stephen Dobyns. Penguin Books, $15.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-14-058916-0

The 10th collection of poems by suspense novelist (Boy in the Water; Forecasts, May 3) and poet Stephen Dobyns (Velocities; Common Carnage) is a modern morality cycle with an Everyman-like figure named Heart at its center. In 61 episodic poems, Dobyns reels off the foibles of Heart, who comes to resemble Charlie Brown as seen by Charles Bukowski. Heart is foiled repeatedly in his ill-conceived attempts to attract women (his knife-sharp steel valentine is intercepted by the bomb squad; he buys chest wigs to bolster his masculinity, but ends up eating them). His quest for happiness comes to an end over and over in similarly amusing and depressing anecdotes, and by the book's close one wonders whether Heart might not do well to listen to Prozac. Or even to Freud--Dobyns's willful sarcasm seems to want to foreclose its possibilities, as if by filling this book with cartoon versions of anxiety some genuine problem of lyric identity--is Heart really only misogynistic Spleen?--might be forestalled. Which is not to dismiss the more pointed cartoons: in ""Great Job,"" Heart takes the craze for validation to the point of running down into the street in the rain and telling everybody ""Great job"" as they pass. At the center of the book is a meditation on depressive inertia, ""Oh, Immobility, Death's Vast Associate,"" in which Dobyns takes a stab at figuring out why most of existence is spent in a hostile state of doing nothing. In this case, it might just be a well-deserved rest. (Sept.)