Poetry by iyra e m maharaj, from earth-circuit

The JRB presents an excerpt from earth-circuit by iyra e m maharaj.

iyra e m maharaj
Dryad Press, 2023


dear sad people
i always believed that the sun would turn purple
the day humanity learned to glow

but lately my warm wooden library turned cold
in the summer i’d pick up the heaviest explanation
of evolution and smile at it like a proud amphibian

in the winter i’d pray to a stagnant universe
forget i’d evolved in a dream—
i walked through the first testament

where ocean lapped up coarse sand
and transfigured into bones
standing tall and cracking open a footpath

it never ends someone said to me
but then it does
—did i belong in your world?
you write so many letters to your pills and lovers

priests and ghosts—i chose to write my own letter
to a raised razor nightmare running and raw
a woman peeling herself to sleep

in a dream—the old testament sent me a witch
and the witch sent me a sparrow
to unfurl the summer that slept on my lap

the sparrow sent me a muse
who trembled into Egypt and
turned serpents into stars

the muse sent me a book—cell to bone
to bristlecone pine tendon to asteroid—
that i had written myself

it never ends and then it does
and glows with the bursting
violet of dawn


today we learn to love ourselves—
there is someone sitting above the universe
who leads us to a desert of dry bones

he wipes off our aching crusts
picks up our cracked ribs
and fills our empty spaces
with gold

and swimming through our veins
trickling down our lungs
we find our reddest rose

japanese mermaids

i spit salt trinkets out my mouth
sky gods crouch over the ocean
fishing for japanese mermaids
their golden grins like shamans

i inhale a pale bloodied sun
that tips against the evening grey
a smiling mermaid heaves forward
infant teeth jut from decay

moving fast, a slithering fish
kisses my tongue, my milky eyes
drown along the temple dirt road
as i glimpse a shrinking sky


  • iyra e m maharaj holds a doctorate in paleobiology from the University of Cape Town. She was born and raised in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal and studied biological sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal before moving to Cape Town for postgraduate research. As a matriculant, she was the recipient of the Francis & Jessica Brett-Young Memorial Prize in 2012. She currently teaches Biology at a high school in Cape Town. Alongside her teaching commitments, she is also a writer at KREST Publishers, working on a collaborative fiction novel. earth-circuit is her debut poetry collection.


Publisher information

‘The landscapes of this poet’s vision welcome the mystery that resides in ancient places, and equally, in those where we have not yet lived. Hers are surprising, concrete, carved words—stately sounds, emotion bushing behind elegance; all serve as reminders of what you never knew you knew.’—Phillippa Yaa de Villiers

In earth-circuit, iyra e m maharaj transports us to a dreamscape where surreal imagination creates its own force field, giving rise to an abundant range of ideas, experiences and images that prompt a new view on familiar and naturalised norms. 

References to art and culturally varied forms of religion make for a rich textual universe, constantly in the process of creation and deformation. Harnessing a dervish-type figure in the background, the poet shapes, crafts and pushes the boundaries of expectation beyond received ideas of God and gender. 

These strangely vital encounters of dream life and reconsidered waking come to life, creating a powerful mythology of woman as energy in an embrace of an elemental witchy power.

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