Advice to a Nightwalker

Billy Collins

You do not want to linger on a bridge engulfed in fog
or return any growling you might hear in the dark.

Make sure to wear something white.

And be careful which tune you
whistle as you walk past the graveyard.

There are so many tunes the dead have heard
so many times before–
on their car radios and at concerts,
and now finally from nervous whistlers like yourself.

Even if you happen to choose a tune
currently popular with the dead,
your jumpiness is apt to wreck the melody
and ruin the mood of the original composition.

Better to hum some indistinct little phrase.

Better still, be quiet past the graveyard.
Get up on your tiptoes and hold your breath.

That way, you will not disturb the symmetry
of skeletons with their arm bones at their sides,
not to mention the cones of ash
and the desiccated petals.

That way, as you pass under the heavy trees,
you might even hear the whistling of the dead

and take courage from their songs,
their brave, spirited anthems.

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