Exquisite strangers
When money will have nothing to do with me,

when the only voice I hear is my own

and all my books are having a great laugh at my expense --

especially Lowell

who doesn't think I'm a man at all --

I go to the café and sit among my amigos.

The woman whose left arm has blossomed into skulls and roses is my sister.

The man in the business suit, wrapped like a muzzle around his body,

is talking on the phone with a client. The client is my brother.

The man is my confidant . . .

So begins "Amigos," a standout work from Matthew Dickman's first collection, "All American Poem" (American Poetry Review/Copper Canyon Press: 85 pp., $14). The voice is casual and intimate, startling us with metaphors -- "blossomed into skulls," "wrapped like a muzzle" -- whose brilliance seems natural and unforced. Then, the tone suddenly shifts:

At any moment California will fall into the Pacific

and this congregation of ours will rise up

and walk across the Barnes & Noble parking lot

toward those breaking waves.

We will be together

in car accidents, train wrecks,

in a hot bath clouding up with our own blood

while the men and women we love read quietly in the other room,