Poet Levis offers eight stories here, all full of a poet's prose, for better and for worse: each is broken into numerous sections or capsules of prose; each reaches for lyrical epiphanies; and each is largely plotless. Two or three are poignant meditations, whereas the others are merely portentous. The good news first: ``An Illustration of the Castle'' is a dramatic monologue by a deposed emperor whose material successes provide him with little consolation. His meditation on conquest and on the nature of love is moving and filled with insight--the wanting of his conquered people, for instance, ``began to feel like a threat....'' ``A Divinity in its Fraying Fact'' is another meditation, this time by a narrator concerning his mother's discovery of a drowned young priest in the family pool: ``How strong my mother must have been to haul him out alone!....It was Time, Time itself that frightened my mother.'' Such philosophical tidbits work their wonders when suitably grounded, but not when Levis turns mannered and seems to think his brand of fictional wisdom alone is enough to carry a narrative. It isn't, and many of these pieces get bogged down in heavy-handed or facile observations that float almost free of their context. ``Roulette,'' for example, set after a coup and very Eastern European in its assumptions, is pretentious and dry: ``...everything has become inconsiderably but incontestably real.'' Too many such free throws also mar the title story, full of ruminations on a politically repressive society (``Hell's always the same''); ``In Memory of Something or Other'' (dated); and ``Three Illustrations'' (long, dreary, and flat). Very much a first collection of prose, of interest mainly to fans of Levis's verse.