Gilchrist's fifth collection (Light Can Be Both Wave and Particle, 1989, etc.) is the familiar mix of dizzy lyricism, gossipy southernisms, and erotic longing that we've come to expect from her -- though fans will be pleased with the continuing chronicle of the life of alter ego Rhoda Manning. ""An orgasm is an orgasm and it's a hell of a lot better than Xanax,"" Rhoda says in ""A Statue of Aphrodite,"" the book's opener about her visit with Dr. Brevard, an obstetrician who falls in love with his patient after reading one of her magazine articles; the search for orgasmic love is still Gilchrist's overriding theme, but her 50-ish heroine, introduced in In the Land of Dreamy Dreams (1981), is now more cautious and less frenetic. There is also an elegiac quality to the collection: ""Paris"" is a slice-of-life about Rhoda overseas, her knockabout credo undercut by the death of a young man in an explosion set by the Italian Mafia; ""Joyce"" is a tribute to a one-legged university teacher (Rhoda is one of his students), a teacher of Joyce too good for the mundane world who smokes himself to death; and ""Among the Mourners"" is about a poet suicide. On a lighter note, Gilchrist has a lot of fun at the expense of the health-care industry and its byzantine insurance scams as Rhoda writes letters to Blue Cross (""The Uninsured""); of the New Orleans poetry and jazz subculture (""The Raintree Street Bar and Washateria, A Fable""); and of her old standby Miss Crystal from Victory Over Japan (1984), now afflicted with allergies (""Too Much Rain, or, The Assault of the Mold Spores""). Some of these stories are as good as poetry slams, others spend too much time in the fields of dipsy-doodle ditziness. But even so, it's one of Gilchrist's best as her characters, deep into middle age, begin to take account of lasting things.