Heynen's ""stories"" are, rather, fables: extremely curt, sometimes a mere page long--many of them dealing with a band of brothers: farmboys who are in close touch with grisly realities (tail-docking, castrating, butchering) but who are also unusually sensitive to beautiful, secret moments in nature. In ""The Youngest Boy,"" one of the brothers is small and quiet enough to sneak out of the house at night and observe the farm animals in their private, late-night distress. (""Steers rubbing against wooden fences because the grubs in their backs did not sleep at night. Or sick pigs that had swallowed wire plodding to the drinking trough to quench the burning in their stomachs. Even birds and chickens with their little fluttering pains."") In the very artful ""The Old Policeman,"" the boys hurl tomatoes from the town's church steeple; elsewhere, they stick firecrackers into a chicken and a sparrow. But, though the violence and cruelty here is vividly captured, there's also an off-putting smugness in Heynen's pat, ironic attitudes toward the boys' malice: ""This was during a time of war and the boys could not feel bad about the chicken and sparrow, especially now when everyone's spirits were up while they were singing together."" And there's even more knowing condescension in a section of pieces involving an insufferable Zen jokester named Uncle Jack. With a poet's impressive economy, an awareness of the relative values of every word employed, Heynen often makes these fables seem more meaningful than they really are--but, beneath the considerable artistry here, there's little more than craftily re-vamped folk wisdom and all-purpose irony.