Breaking Stones


Beside a road in Allahabad,

I saw her

       breaking stones.


No tree to give her shade,

A dark skin,

Firm, tightly-cupped breasts,

Eyes fixed on the ground,

Thoughts of the night before

Going through her mind,

She brought down the heavy hammer

Again and again, as though it was

A weapon in her hand.

Across the road—

A row of trees, high walls,

The mansions of the rich.


The sun climbed the sky.

The height of summer.

Blinding heat, and the loo blowing hard,

Scorching everything in its path.

The earth under the feet

Like burning cotton wool,

The air filled with dust and sparks.

It was almost noon,

And she was still breaking stones.


As I watched,

She looked at me once,

Then at the houses opposite,

Then at her ragged clothes.

Seeing there was no one around,

She met my eyes again

With eyes that spoke of pain<br.

But not defeat.


Suddenly, there came the notes of a sitar,

Such as I had not heard before.

The next moment her young body

Quivered and as sweat

Trickled down her face, she lifted

The hammer, resuming work,

As though to say,

       I’m breaking stones.



[1935] Translated from the Hindi by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra.

You Might Also Enjoy

Mass. Ave.

Sarah Green

I was fifteen. My father and I stood
at the basement threshold, shouting
at each other, maybe the only time.


Bailout Haiku

Alicia Ostriker

The banks were betting
on derivatives and when
everything collapsed our taxes paid to
bail them out without any. . .



Brandon Kreitler

I looked for it in the afterlight lapping the edge of the long valley. I sought it in canopy, in the horizon’s fringe, past. . .


Further Reading

Heads Up: We recently updated our privacy policy to clarify how and why we collect personal data. By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand this policy.