Illustration of Black-presenting hand releasing an orange paper airplane


Pongo Poetry Project’s mission is to engage youth in writing poetry to inspire healing and growth. For over 20 years, Pongo has mentored poetry with children at the Child Study and Treatment Center (CSTC), the only state-run psychiatric hospital for youth in Washington State. Many CSTC youth are coping with severe emotional, behavioral, and mental health challenges. Approximately 40% of youth arrive at CSTC having been court ordered to get treatment; however, by the end of their stay, most youth residents become voluntary participants.

Pongo believes there is power in creative expression, and articulating one’s pain to an empathetic audience. Through this special bi-monthly column in partnership with the South Seattle Emerald, Pongo invites readers to bear witness to the pain, resilience, and creative capacity of youth whose voices and perspectives are too often relegated to the periphery. To partner with Pongo in inspiring healing and relief in youth coping with mental and emotional turmoil, register for Speaking Volumes 2022, their fall celebration.


By a young person, age 17 

i’m quiet, but i still speak.
sweet, tangy words play at my lips,
rolling from my tongue,
but are met by a wall—
a disconnect
unable to reach the paper or the world.

maybe it’s because of old memories
that cause current fears
to collide with my thoughts
causing an internal chaos
that chains my mouth shut.


By a young person, age 15 

I’m in a trench too deep to be dug
I wonder if I’m able to climb these rocky walls
that stand in front of me
I see the dark clouds rolling over my head
Soon I can feel the cool, wet rain on my skin
As I drift to sleep, I hear a voice
through the rocky walls of the trench
I feel someone touch my arm
I jump to my feet
to find another young girl in the trench
She cannot speak a word

I know she was real
One night she said I hear someone up there
We looked at each other with excitement
We both screamed
Help! Help us! We’re trapped down here!
But no one heard us
The rain came down hard very hard
It felt like rocks
Soon the trench was a big pool
I knew how to swim but the little girl didn’t
Soon the trench was filled to the top
The little girl and I came out alive
There was nothing for the trench to swallow again
The little girl has found her family
and is now living peacefully and happily with them
And me?
She actually pushed me into the next trench
which did not get rained in

As I drift off to sleep once more
I say, Dear God, just take me now


by a young person, age 15

I remember a time when I was 13
when I was discovered
when I started
to find
to feel 
to regret
to remember
to acknowledge
to have myself
to be
to know pretty
to know it hurts to love myself
to sing

Dedicated to my mother

Featured illustration by Alexa Strabuk.

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