The Education of Sugar Girl, poem by Tonia Marie Harris (WHEN I HEAR THAT SONG Series)

My poem went live over at Silver Birch Press today. This poem is inspired by the divine Miss Hill’s music and my journey as a woman overcoming drug addiction and an abusive relationship. Hope you enjoy and please feel free to leave a comment.

Silver Birch Press

lauryn hill
The Education of Sugar Girl
by Tonia Marie Harris

I dressed myself in vanilla custard, sticky
I could glom on, be the center of him.
Lauryn Hill asked the same question
a bubble above our heads, storming
When it hurts so bad, why’s it feel
So good?

In my arms, a girl, in my belly, a girl
and me, a girl, sticky
with longing. I had to be the nurture they needed.

At that rate, I would give anyone cavities.

I dreamed of their teeth, their mouths,
their tongues. Decayed by a girl who gave
her power away. No.
No. I my bubble gum lips, my slick
contrivance, packed what mattered in a cheap
laundry basket and we stole away in the sun
pin-pricked and melted.

I let it. I let it be the thing a sugar girl needs. A woman
come clean. A woman come the hard way round…

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Renaissance, We Are


(a poem in celebration of the Lakelights Art and Music Festival 2015)

Burn your ties, bring your love.

Like a child in the clover fields. Follow

the path of welcome signs.

Balance yourself where you are, spread your toes

sink your bones into the earth and witness.


Without reconnaissance. Startled. Sedate.

Seeking kindness in the void.

There are places for laughter



in your throat, pulling from the belly.


as the creation of the universe. Joy

in supplication

let me tell you a story about the oyster

a stranger said

with a smile as wide as summer afternoons

it belongs to you,

(stay with me.)

you are the oyster. Dance this around

in your head like stars. Unabbreviated.

Love rises like sea foam. Splitting. Throw it open

like the shores of Spain, Ireland

and lakes in small towns where corn stalks sway


the artists rise like storms thundering

the sound of dancing feet, bare, drums

pounding sleek, warm with body

heat cool as sipping air between your lips. mandating

rituals new as a child’s first cry old as harvest moons.



Halcyon roots of Mesopotamia

Kaleidoscope sutures loose as limbs


on Whitman, Frida Kahlo and ragtime beats.

One Day This Boy

One day this boy will be a man. He of the

sun-bleached  hair and long eyelashes

who smells like dirt under the nails, peanut butter

watermelon shampoo and hugs with his entire being.

I wonder if I will grieve this boy-thing beasty that

would rather dig holes in the yard with a spoon or

create wild art with torn sheets of notebook paper. No.

There can’t be grief where there are long walks holding his

square hand in mine studying bees and looking

for storm clouds and once he said he wants to be a father

and have a wife. My heart stuttered stopped my

eyes watered joy for his good dreams.

I am in the now with him because that

is the only place he can really find me

reading bedtime stories, teaching him a boy can

become a man who dances and women are his friends

not his adversaries and how books open doors and souls

and kindness isn’t something waiting on a shelf

for perfect timing and perfect faith.

As mothers we always find ourselves standing in


Between fractions of moments sometimes heedless

because days are at once short and long

counting calories and stretch marks on our thighs

buying boxes for our treasures left under beds empty

nurturing needing and dismayed by our own perception

of perfect and longing to be better because we value

what lies in the tide of our dna- the knowing it is one

day this boy will only have a memory of the lines on

our faces and the sounds of our voices singing Katy

Perry songs in cars strewn with wrappers and how we

laughed at bad jokes and told him stories about

our lives giving a glimpse of our inner selves

hoping he will see how dear is love and love

is energy that never dies but transcends the

weight of our bodies, bad days, and dirty socks.

One day this boy will be a man bristling with

maleness and wear his heart not on his sleeve

but in his chest loudly beating open, swift, and

giving as his bedtime kisses and curiosity.

For Zeke. July 13, 2015zeke

Sick Girl

I was a sick girl hiding in back rooms

admiring the way chemicals smelled like citrus

and floor cleaner. Nothing wrong with that I thought

learning the names of things we couldn’t say in better company.

I wanted to feel better and it’s always about that

this feeling of being so repulsed by your own flat

two-dimensional sense of self that

stained mattresses on floors and baby this is a nice

buzz put a smile on my face and a shine in my eyes.

One time I talked to an old friend on the phone

and tried to sound like my old self

light as meringue on lemon pie. Not geeking, tweaking, nail-biting

guilt-ridden me.

I could lie and say this road is long behind me, but sometimes I see

that sick girl in the rear view mirror

waiting to be slipped on like a favorite dress or that plum-colored lipstick

I loved back in 1999.

I wish I could bury her in her convulsions of plastic glory

I wish she was a seed that would grow into a cherry tree and I could

taste the sweet of overcoming something

I never could understand and it’s so close. I have my victory

but am kept humble by all that loss and

when the reaper stands in the light and I can’t breathe

and I want to hurt myself because sometimes the world is too vast and I

am so small when I am riding the day, waiting for the next unbroken

stream of sameness.

I know how easy a virus it is, this contagion

that never leaves your bones and when I see them in corners or on streets

I want to embrace them and say it will be but a lullaby but

when you’re an addict the only possible cure is the truth

but that’s like saying maybe this winter the ice won’t come again, or that people

will learn to always be kind. It’s there, it’s present, it’s

sunshine blues and tenuous promises. Still. I am entitled to nothing

but faith I can make it until tomorrow and the only way out

is through.  It’s been years but time is not the measure of what we are

capable of. It’s that moment

a prelude

of who you want to be when you want more

than just to feel better for a little while.

Art Begets Art

I believe this to be completely true. I’ve been inspired by paintings, music, and other poetry and stories. “Art begets art.”

i love the word blue

spring-657483_640I painted my first picture

on a courthouse square where girls

in long skirts and boys in

wrinkled shirts

sang. The sound of acoustic guitars

did something glad to my soul.

I discovered paint and words are very


for a girl who loves rain

and the word blue. Words are more yielding

for someone like me, my fingers trace them

while I dream.

Not that the words yield, but that I learn to give

a little here and there like a real piece of work


A paint brush, I thought, would be like a poem

it is not. I am clumsy with it and had to teach the

colors to yield, blend, and I had to work from the bottom up


When I write a poem, it is more like working from the top

downward, like yoga, maybe

or the word blue. I live inside of it.

I try to speak or write about


but I don’t like that word it tastes like

sucking on a metal hanger when I was eight

it held my tongue for weeks and daisies

smelled like nickel plating.

I think for the painter, it is like poetry and I may dislike you

if you see both and do both and live inside of both.

Because it is like astronomy. I can learn it but I will never stand on the moon.

Yet, I will paint again because it expressed

that purple is my favorite color, but not a word

I will empty all over a blank canvas. No.

Twin girls watched us sit down and pick

up stiff brushes, taught us how to make the seas foam

and how soft water is. I watched them

calm and they were like the trees or the façade

of the old courthouse. Beautiful

and I loved my hometown a little more.

We took pictures with our art

my daughters and my best friend

each piece as separate

as a brush stroke.

Which really is not so separate when you take a step back.

There is a moment when it all becomes whole.

That moment is a gift.

Later, my oldest ate watermelon

with her hands behind her back. And I thought.


What a beautiful day. Right now I am as soft, sweet,

round and open as the word blue.

On Why The WME Community Library Is Important To Me

libraryquoteThis post will be very emotional. I just wanted to let you know before we go any further together. I’m writing from a broken heart. Some of the reasons are very personal, other reasons include the recent shooting in South Carolina, and all the violence we see daily across our nation and across our world.

This September will mark two years since a young girl died at the hands of her uncle. Her name is Willow Long. My daughters knew her. She lived in a village just ten minutes from mine. I remember those long nights waiting for news about her. Would they find her alive? Like many mothers in my area, I kissed my children good night. So glad they were safe. So thankful. Yet guilty because there was a little girl out there… in pain, afraid, lost, alone. We didn’t know.

We didn’t know a family member did the unthinkable.

In the wake of this grief that struck our communities, I wanted to do something. I spoke with a few friends of mine. I wished I was a NYT bestseller, or had money at  my disposal. Like many families, mine struggles. To pay the bills. Buy small comforts for our children. I wished I had the money to build a library for our communities. I was told I didn’t have to wait. To start from where I was. So I did. A friend and I began sending out emails to the director of Helen Matthes Library and others.

Residents of Edgewood, IL (where I live) and surrounding communities have access to the Helen Matthes Library in Effingham IL. But because we live outside of Effingham city limits, it costs us over one-hundred dollars for a card, and cost and convenience of transportation to a town twenty minutes away by interstate is dear to many.

I have only great things to say about Helen Matthes Library. The director and staff there are generous and supportive. They’ve volunteered their time to meet with our board and train us in various areas, such as how to properly cover a book.

Shortly after my friend and I sent our emails out, the director of HML contacted us. Someone else, a resident of Watson, where the tragedy had happened, had also been in touch with the same idea. We met. I hope he is as grateful as I am to be part of the same team.

Soon, we had our own board. In almost two years, we have held fundraisers, volunteered, and put our time and hearts into what is now the WME Community Library.

It is located in what last year was the Edgewood Grade School. Losing the school was another hard hit to our community. Many still grieve its loss.

The Mason Township Park district bought the building and rents two rooms out to us. What was once an idea, shared by two strangers, is now a reality. We keep our books in one room and the room next to it serves as our lobby/computer lounge/children’s creation station. We have plans to expand. A local artist has agreed to come in an paint a mural of a willow tree, in loving memory of Willow Long.

And now, for the personal and emotional part.

We opened our doors just a few weeks ago, on June 8. I left the library room and went next door. When I walked back into the library, I saw something that began to mend the pieces of myself I didn’t know were still broken. A little boy sat on the love seat we put in our children’s area toward the back of the room. There are blocks, puzzles, and colorful rugs there. It’s my favorite part of the library, outside of all the books. The little boy turned the pages of a picture book, smiling.

That was the moment I realized the power of hope, of small change, in a world gone mad.

That little boy reading, so full of innocent joy with the discovery of a new book, symbolizes faith to me.

I can’t bring myself these days to tell my children monsters don’t exist.

I can tell them we are not powerless to fight them.

We can’t place our faithful trust in strangers, or even, sadly, family members.

We can place our trust in ourselves. In our capacity for goodness. In our will to make the right decisions, to believe in the world we want (for ourselves, for our children, for their children, and so forth). We can put that faith into actions of love.

Maybe we can’t trust strangers. But we can love them. And that is the hardest, bravest thing we can do in our lives. And the most true and worthy.

I need healing. And so do you. And so do the people I don’t know in my own community and the surrounding communities. That is my personal mission with the library. When I started out, I only knew about ten people in my area. I don’t know how I was able to reach inside myself to care about these strangers. But I did. And so have my fellow board members and so many who have volunteered their time, donated books, funds, and other items we need.

Yesterday, I walked into the library feeling sad and lost and so, so vulnerable. What the library means to me is a safe place to explore this world, ideas, philosophy, history, and the dreams and lives of others. Two rooms in an old school symbolize the goodness in the world. Strength. Oasis. Shelter to be truly free, to learn about the best in ourselves. To realize that there are monsters, but they can be fought. Through knowledge and caring for strangers. Grieve with them. Celebrate with them.

An older gentleman came into the library yesterday and said he wanted to volunteer. He said he has experience with woodwork, he will build us book cases. He has experience tutoring literacy, English as a second language, computer literacy, math, and more. Another stranger who offered his time and valuable experience. I laughed for the first time that day. Because this stranger became an angel in my eyes. Because I shook the hand of a good man. Because he reminded me of what I already knew, about the powerful force of basic goodness.

As have so many others. Authors who send their books to us and ask for nothing. Friends who write checks for books and licensing fees. Strangers who bake cookies for other strangers. The woman who owns the local grocery store who has donated pancake mixes and syrups for breakfast fundraisers, chicken and vegetables for soup suppers, book cases, and lets us post signs in her store window to let people know we’re here. That they have access to books, computers, fresh coffee, air conditioning, and the promise of friendly volunteers.

These are all simply people who believe in a good world, and in acting on this faith, make it so.

I have spent a good part of my morning crying into my coffee and looking out my kitchen window into the rain. Some of my tears are from grief, others are tears of catharsis. Because all those broken pieces of my soul, shattered by family news and national news and world news are coming together in a shape that is better than what was there before.

Robert Putnam said, “People may go to the library looking mainly for information, but they find each other there.”

I am already grateful for those I’ve found through the creation and growth of the WME Community Library, and grateful for the many more I hope to meet and provide service, information, friendship, and support to.

For more information on The WME Community Library, please visit:

For more information on why libraries are important to the community, please visit:

Thank you.