Tonia Marie Harris

Midwest Writer & Poet

Women of a Certain Age

800px-Another_Full_MoonIt comes on like the summer

you had your first period . This small moment when

all of a sudden

you realize you’re a woman, not a girl.

Those sanguine roles of youth are no longer yours

and it’s setting a weight down. Learning to dance

from the balls of your feet up.

Standing barefoot in the moonlight tasting your need

to howl in the back of your throat.


Letting it loose because you don’t give a fuck.







Mourning Song

I have given it a name. The Bleak

this beast it bites and in its bullets

are coffin nails. Those nails I hear them


this sad work. This goodbye . This ready fear

and hate that wants to consume.

Will it stop for nothing?

On it savages and we are groping because we are

life. Larger than our skins, our thumbnails

our predatory perceptions.

I am raging and I must find the quiet.

Words are weapons shaped like guns and madness.

Words are the threads we hang ourselves with slowly

suffocating wisdom, history, and grace.

Words are the joining of hands and songs lifted

someone’s voice saying “Love is Love” and then

words are the threads that can save us, the Bleak

is more afraid than we.

This quiet breaks me.

I am dust, the breath of you now in and out I am

that ache in your chest and the light coming

through your kitchen window.

You are with me now. This slow moment I can’t promise

redemption, answers,

or that safe is not an illusion.

Only this bright feather, this haling light

waits. It waits and we must have it.

The Bleak may come today and tomorrow.

And we mourn.

Then we sing.

And our song will be heard in Washington, the polls, the drumming

sound of our feet marching the grounds

of hometowns and let the beasts feed off the apathy

we leave behind like shed skins.

Let them hear us coming not in fear or hate

but in choruses of grace and hope and

motherfucking love.



My heart is with the families and friends of the victims in Orlando.

To hear the acceptance speech given by the lovely Lin-Manual Miranda that helped inspire the more hopeful ending of this poem, please visit this link.

The Things We Leave Behind

We hear the word legacy and we think of what we leave behind when we die.

Our unencumbered reality may well be this:

We leave things behind every day. With each breath. Our skin flakes and lands on windowsills, our hair clogs the drain, that time we smiled at a stranger is now as much a memory as that last summer fling.

What if we really, truly treated our lives and our creative selves as legacies?


All of the people I admire- musicians, writers, friends, and family members- live their life just this way. Bowie and Prince still dance in our mind’s halcyon eye. I warm myself by their light when I put on a favorite album, or have coffee with an old friend.

I want what they have.

One of my favorite words in the English language is grace. It has several definitions, one of the archaic definitions being: mercy, or pardon. The word implies charity of character, courtesy, giving thanks.

As a mother, I’ve known since my oldest was born nearly sixteen years ago, that if I could leave anything with my children, it would be how to walk in the world with grace. I want them to go out into the world brave and kind, to never forget how to experience awe.

As a writer, I want my readers to find grace in my stories. I want my voice to be a reflection of not only my truth, but their truth as well. I want them to know when they pick up one of my stories, essays, or poems that they will feel that they’ve been treated with trust and courtesy, with thanksgiving for their time and their particular space in the world.

Sometimes I think I always want too much.

But that is me treating myself the way I would never treat someone I love or admire. I would never tell a friend, “You should just go back to bed. Your dreams are insipid and you’re sniveling all over your favorite t-shirt again.”

I hereby pardon myself and you, dear reader.

I give us permission to not believe everything we think.

To roll our shoulders back, take a deep breath, and stop being afraid :

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. ~Marianne Williamson

What is left behind leaves its indelible mark on us, always. There are nights we spin away from sleep, plagued by the echoes of past mistakes and words we can’t take back. We’re humans- we see ghosts- reflections of our own souls and the reflection of ourselves in the people we’ve hurt- everywhere we turn. Those ghosts aren’t there to torment us, but to remind us of the lessons we’ve learned.

I see star dust everywhere. Constellations of souls who pay tribute to this valuable life and their own creative force. I know their legacy well. I told you, I warm myself by their light.

And sometimes, I know their secret.

I kiss my son’s forehead, talk with my daughters about their futures, or write one true thing. And I know.

Grace, like anything in this life, is a choice. Often, it’s the hardest choice there is. Because we have to acknowledge our own power and honor it.

It’s frightening.

And yes-


(Image via By ESO – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Mike Peel using CommonsHelper. (Original text:, CC BY 4.0,









The Only Way Out


I believed the stories others told me, and those darker stories I carry with me.

I didn’t understand story.

My voice only sang out in poetry.

I’d wasted most of my life on one dream.

I quit writing stories for nearly a year. I couldn’t not write and there was poetry. . I tried for three days to quit writing anything. Then a poet I had met online sent a box full of volumes of poetry to the library I helped create and help run and still run today. Having convinced myself I had no talent or soul for writing stories, it hurt to try to pick up a novel.

I read those chapbooks, the magazines, the collections, everything the poet sent in that box. I read them until verse spilled out of me and I carried a hardback notebook with me. I turned my ghosts into poems. To do so, I had to examine them in new ways. Get up close, smell the decay that reaches forward into the present.

I thought I knew myself. The poet. I threw myself in and there I didn’t sink. I floated. I raised my head up and let the sunlight shimmer across the water while I learned to breathe again.

I was lost. Yet, somehow, I was right where I needed to be. It’s a hardscrabble, frightening place. Starting from square one. My quest became spiritual and when I acknowledged my pain and need for healing, life sent me new friends. And teachers.

There are adventures in that place called Uncertain. I joined a meditation group and bought a vintage typewriter. I raised a tent up with friends and typed up poetry for near or perfect strangers. Connection between an artist, something created, and the viewer or reader is tangible. When it’s right, it raises the hair up on your arms. People you’ve just met tell you their secrets and ask you to tell them back in mantras, in meditations.

One of them said, “You tell stories with your poetry.”

I wanted to kiss her on the cheek in gratitude.

The stories never stopped, though I turned away from them. They would not be quiet. Characters became real on my own and visited me in my dreams. I knew their hearts even as they held me captive at night. They weren’t glimmers of ideas. Anecdotes. They wanted something only I could give them.

“Tell our story,” they demanded.

Like me, they wanted connection.

Slowly, I began to write stories again. Abbreviated things. I entered a contest and won. My secret is the story pays homage to a girl I once knew. I hated her for a long time because I couldn’t understand how brave she’d been. I saw only her vulnerability, her raw need to survive. And I called her selfish, a fool. I love and admire that girl now. She wasn’t perfect, but she taught me how to love. How to be kind. To stand in awe of life once in awhile.

I began to work on a novel I had wanted to write for over two years. I knew the main characters- sisters who paid visits to me during the night. Their voices were loudest, their instinct for survival the strongest.

Their story scares the hell out of me.

Tonia, the fantasy writer?

Now I have a notebook full of scenes, ideas, the story of a relationship between sisters as well as this twisted fairy tale of how a girl who survived becomes an evil queen. I’m writing pages now and down the rabbit hole I go. A little more each day.

It’s fucking weird and incredible here in this story world of mine. Here the Wyrdlings who once ruled are coming into Machiavellian power again. Here a scared girl becomes a terrifying queen. Here love equals pain. (I think this truth scares me the most on bad days.)

I have calluses from all this digging. My back aches from tearing down this wall, brick by brick.

It’s delirious and maddening and I am laying every shadow out in the sun.  Jung said, “To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light.”

This is my missive. I am a storyteller. The work matters and I must remember this.

The only way out is through.



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