Phenomenology of Giving


Laila Halaby


playground parents

young man showing his tats skateboarding all check this out instead of watching his kid too into her fine self swishing her highlighted hair blabbing loud into her fancy phone doesn't hear mommy mommy mommy from the jungle gym too bothered tired worn out sad still in work clothes pushing his/her kid on the swing up to the sky eyes distant sad stuck not hearing all those chattery words answering yes, honey that one though he got it together dressed for the boardwalk in new jersey fedora slouchy pants leather shoes five kids under age six daddy I have to pee says number three he carries her to a tree pulls down her pants lifts her up while watching his other four climb scream jump while she watches a stream of pale yellow splash against the trunk runs back to the jungle gym as soon as she is done man got his eyes tight on his kids except number four who walks over to the tree squats down to drag his finger in the moist dirt sniffing it smiling then walks back to his smiling father who reaches down absently to hold his son's hand

cloudy morning

I watch the man across the street: he hangs out a woman's underwear, wet on a hanger. I have never seen the woman whose hips are wide enough to fill those nylon briefs nor do I know for sure that she exists though I suspect she does and that he cooks her food to fill her mouth, her belly. I'm sure he fought in wars away from her and now she fights her own in bed so close to him her body gray and soft, while her mind goes away so gently like the water, dirty from her clothes, the drain accepting of the waste. He wants to keep her happy with him. She is happy in her world, which is her own. So good of you to come, she says and smiles. Her eyes watch him closely but do not see. My lovely wife, he says, and brushes crumbs of toast from her chin. My dear, lovely wife he says again and leaves the room because he cannot bear the memories that come today or that sweetest smile she turns on him as though she's forgotten she's not twenty one years old and still in love with him. As though four children, two still alive, haven't passed between them, as though her mind was still dreaming of poetry and baseball games in summertime. He stands outside and watches gulls, hoping he can keep what has been lost beneath the clouds, the gray clouds of memory that make him wonder what is waiting for him and if she knows he's there to brush away the crumbs and hang her underwear outside.


unpeel you from the bumpy surfaces you slam yourself into stand on the sidelines with their soft washcloths ready to wipe away pebbles and glass shards hand you small envelopes of cash more than they would ever spend on themselves buy yourself something nice mothers don't flinch when you show them the riding boots that cost what they would have spent on three weeks of groceries these are superhero boots, ma you won't ever have to worry about me again