This year's Pushcart anthology of small-press literature is the biggest yet--which means more gems, and yet more dross surrounding them. This year's crop of short stories mostly consists of straightforward depictions of working-class life and death. In this vein, the stand-out is Ron Carlson's ``Oxygen,'' a vivid account of a late-'60s summer spent delivering oxygen to invalids in Arizona. Meanwhile, Pamela Painter's short study ``The Kiss'' addresses a question on many minds lately: What is it like to kiss someone wearing a dumbbell-shaped rod through his pierced tongue? The Pushcart's forte remains literary criticism and memoir. This year features strong contributions from Charles Baxter on the relation between poetry and prose, Lewis Hyde on the place of the aleatory in art, Charles Simic on his days as an unknown poet in New York, and Gretchen Legler on her passion for hunting. Once again the selection of poetry is fairly uneven. A contribution from Robert Pinsky finds the US poet laureate at his most pedantic, while selections like Julia Vinograd's ``For the Young Men Who Died of AIDS'' (which asks, ``How can people go on buying toothpaste / and planning their summer vacations?'') court bathos. A shorter, more surreal poem succeeds, however: David Hayward's speech in the voice of a combative minor-league baseball mascot, ``Davy Cricket.'' Similarly surreal and successful prose efforts include Susan Daitch's dreamlike ``Killer Whales'' and Tomas Filer's ``Civilization,'' an intriguing tale of how the borders between life and movies blurred in the California of a lifetime ago. The baseball-team mascot Davy Cricket from Heyward's poem provides a kind of emblem for the Pushcart. If the anthology, like the blue-foam-suited Davy, can appear bloated and overly loyal to the performers it celebrates, to complain would be churlish. For the Pushcart's cheerleading calls our attention to some wonderful literature, and, what's more, to the wonderful variety that redeems the existence of more mediocre work.