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from the March 2020 issue

Color Thief

In this poem by Sara Shagufta, light and color become commodities that can be stolen or exchanged.

So evening has come
and it’s begun to steal our faces

You’re a little thief
I’m no thief, man

I stepped down into the sea
and it stole no color from my clothes
a bit of my breath, for sure
was taken by the waves
it seems she too is a saline thief

When’s the last time you dove in the dirt?
to steal soil is big tough toiling

If I took a dive into the earth
it would steal every breath in my body
and it wouldn’t be me who’s the little thief

On every road there are several colored paths
and in some unseen place
one color only saturates it all

You can take the colors of the caves
but truth be told the greatest color thief is the sun
until we arrive at its pure light all it shows is this color
and that one

See—in the mirror our eyes diverge
even the wind is sometimes called “looking glass”
catching your hem and mine
isn’t she also a little thief?

Did you come out to steal or be bathed in this raiment—
look—when the waves hurl themselves at the stony face of the coast
she blanches in the froth

and when the wind entwines the trees in a dance
nothing but green can be seen all around

When a man cries
he floods himself in salt tears
and colorfast he drowns—

Tell me
how does the color of the sky climb down to our earth

If I told you these fine secrets
they’d snatch me up
steal me away

So before I tell you

Just steal the color of this stone
as much color as the force with which I smash it
It will intone the same hue

the color pulverized
all laid out
but even water’s gloss or glaze
does nothing to pull its pigments out
Isn’t it also a weeping man?

Our talk of uprooted flowers cuts like a dagger
these eve-harvested blooms
the depths of night have made black

Go slowly, slowly
they may hear our soft footfalls
but they can’t hide from us

This fire, this blaze
it can’t be extinguished—
but if the light were silenced
you would find suddenly
you are no thief

In the hour when lengthening shadows steal the light
it is their theft, not mine or yours
not ours

If I stop taking what isn’t mine
my house will be without an ember
my bread will sit like this
pale and unbaked in the darkness

My hunger beckons the life, the raiment, the color
it leads me back to the uprooted flowers
who know I’m a thief

When the dark caves of our pupils are stolen
we claw our way out to snatch our colors back

I stole the sea’s color and made a floor
I stole the colors of eyes and made walls
I stole the sun’s color and made shade
I stole hunger’s color and made a stove
I stole the color of shit-talk and sewed my garments out of it

And when fire’s color was taken
my bread sat unbaked

the stones went silent
and the little oil lamp’s flame
began again to burn the void

"Rang Chor" published in Aankhen (Tashkeel Publishers, 1985). Translation © 2020 by Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb. All rights reserved.

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