Allison Joseph - “What the Elders Tell You”

When your parents have died
and their friends are still living,
they sit you down and tell you
everything you didn’t know
and everything you half-suspected

about them, all the affirmations
and confirmations you’d been
waiting for for so many years.
They are your elders still,
but now you are an adult,

maybe with children of your own,
certainly with bills and mortgages,
debts collapsing your expectations, hopes.
Because you are old now too,
these elders tell you of all

your parents’ transgressions:
the adultery, the drinking,
the fractured friendships they never
mended, redeemed only with
their dying. The elders lean forward

as they tell you these things,
laughing with unfamiliar relish
as they recollect their friends,
shaking heads in disapproval
at the misdeeds of the dead.

But did you want to know
your parents were human?
Weren’t you planning
on mourning them forever,
stuck at the age you were

when they died, never reconciling
their adult lives with yours?
Questions tumble from you faster
than you can open your mouth,
and the elders, with their

shaky hands and graying temples,
answer each one—not the veiled
dismissals of your youth,
not with the sly winks
and nudges that did not

include you then,
but with the truth,
salacious and bitter and
humorous, broken
in ways you never expected.

“What the Elders Tell You” copyright © 2006 by Allison Joseph