it’s a dance.
two girls trying not to stand on each other’s toes.
two girls trying not to stand on the truth,
circling each other in the dark.
one wrong step: the air-raid sirens howl.
there are secrets and there are secrets.
the trick is knowing which ones to keep.
the days run past like a well-oiled machine,
and we don’t write often to the people back home.
work is untangling the wires of a truth
only to weave them back into a different lie.
and outside work:
crossword clues become love letters in disguise.
i encode my gaze before i watch you dancing
with a man who has incendiary bombs in his eyes.
but over your shoulder you wink at me—click—
click—click—and my thoughts are scrambled.
every day our mouths are enigma machines
spinning each sentence untranslatable
until in the darkness we uncoil:
your words unlock me.
our mouths turn ciphertext to plaintext
as they fit together like gears.
tonight you will tap morse code
onto the question mark of my spine.
but for now we spin in unison,
rotors set in motion to unroll a secret
or to keep one. we shift like ciphers,
circles in the dark. the windows
are blacked out. nobody can see us dance.
Ella Standage is the winner of many poetry awards, among them the Christopher Tower Poetry competition 2017. A video of Ella reading her winning poem – “rosetta” – is available here.