"It's late and I've stayed up to miss you," Hicok writes, in his customary plain speech. "A man on TV's playing lute with dirty fingernails." In his fourth collection, Hicok writes with a newfound maturity and an appealing lack of obsession with self, examining the joys and pains (mostly pains) of ordinary others. As in earlier books, he chronicles a blue-collar life, a life in which "no matter what happens you have to punch in." The collection commences with a poem about a mentally ill roommate ("At least once you should live with someone/ more medicated than yourself"), and is also populated by a father, an uncle, a wife, a guy holding up a gas station and a little girl obsessed by the size of her hips. Two of the most moving poems concern a laid-off worker, told from the perspective of the boss: "When I told him/ I saw he was looking for a place/ in his brain to hide." Whimsical, even surreal, self-deprecation is one of the recurring gestures of the book; Hicok details the familiar encroachments of age on his hairline and rear end and accuses himself of being a voyeur as the urge for actually doing things ebbs. Although desire is not absent from these poems, the love that Hicok writes about is nearer agape than eros, present despite its frequently class-based trappings: "[W]ho's to say/ love isn't a power suit, Power/ book, coffee/ for breakfast." People drink a lot in these poems; they smoke dope, they smoke cigarettes, they try to escape themselves-and Hicok does not indict them, or himself, for it. "I'm a better poet than man," Hicok writes, but one suspects it really isn't true. (Mar. 28) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.