Scratch a city and find its ghetto; scratch its ghetto and find the cesspool of drugs, disease, and despair that first-time author Giovinazzo, a filmmaker, limns in these 16 harsh yet potent vignettes. Junkies, whores, and muggers find their voices through the author's sinewy prose, which runs from cool (``Mary Montell was proud of her gifts. For a man she was well endowed'') to fever-hot (``Pedro said he saw Londa's ghost floating down the street but nobody believed him cause he was on acid at the time and suddenly his insides poured out of his mouth...''), Giovinazzo presents his lost souls without condemnation, even the worst among them: The longest tale, ``Bullets and Brutality,'' follows one Romeo, a teenaged sociopath, as he goes on a rampage of beatings, robbings, and brutal sex until he's sitting in a dark room, gun in hand, ready for the cops (``Then Romeo closed his eyes and waited for destiny''). Often, though, Giovinazzo elicits sympathy for the downtrodden by highlighting their humanity: In ``Homos Off Houston,'' a transvestite hooker tends to her AIDS-stricken lover; in the most powerful piece here, ``Miss Lonely Has a Date Tonight,'' a hooker, eager to please her pimp, submits unwittingly to a snuff-scene. In like vein, Giovinazzo rarely misses a chance to knock, crudely, white-collar types: In ``Nancy Normal Needs Another,'' a crack-addicted suburban housewife submits to her bond- trader husband's clumsy sexual advances; in ``The Psalm of Richard the Executive,'' the title character cruises for child whores. And while the author's energetic writing sometimes boils over the top (as in ``Cellblock Serenade,'' an obscene raving by a nameless prisoner), it more often captures the sounds and soul of the urban underworld with artful precision. Bold songs of the street--not for the squeamish--in the honorable tradition of Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim.