eye with hand holding cigarette Illustration by Alexa Strabuk


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 youth at the Children & Family Justice Center (CFJC), King County’s juvenile detention facility. Many CFJC residents are Youth of Color who have endured traumatic experiences in the form of abuse, neglect, and exposure to violence. These incidents have been caused and exacerbated by community disinvestment, systemic racism, and other forms of institutional oppression. In collaboration with CFJC staff, Pongo poetry writing offers CFJC youth a vehicle for self-discovery and creative expression that inspires recovery and healing. Through this special bimonthly 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, its fall celebration.


by a young person, age 16 

If my fist could speak,
it would tell you how I’m feeling at that moment 
It could tell you what’s up
Or it could tell you I’m mad  

If my feet could speak, they would recall
walking down downtown Seattle
with my little brothers 
The city around me
Listening to rap music 

If my eyes could speak,
they would tell you about their color
Or hazel
They change
Combination of my mom and my dad’s eyes 
Same as my older brother 

If my pounding heart could speak, it would say free me
Not trying to be locked up no more
I’m fine — but want to be free
Be with my family
Eat some good food 
Carne asada tacos 
Be with girls 

If my hair could speak, it would explain that it’s thick 
From my Panamanian side 
But it can be slicked back too 
My hair cut is coming soon
when I get out 

If my ears could speak, they would share
I know when somebody is bullshitting
I don’t trust people
that are lying or snitching 
I have a hunch when people say certain things
I go with my gut
There are people I do trust
My mom, my family, my brother
I trust them ‘cause I love them 

If my body could speak, you would see my tattoos
But that doesn’t tell you my full story 
Me and God are the only ones who know that 
If my brain could deal with everything, 
it would want to ask why’d I do half the shit I did 


by a young person, age 17

Anger is like fire
Anger is like being another person
Anger is like being blacked out 

Angry because of losing people close to me
Angry because of not being able to see my daughter
Angry because I’m locked up

Maybe anger won’t always burn, but will calm down
Maybe there is a new day for me
when I will turn into somebody else. 
Somebody not heartless. A better man.
Maybe getting over anger could change who I am, 
like becoming successful, 
being with my own family at home watching TV, just being there. 


Group poem by mentors & youth at CFJC

Bring me all your happiness, anger and tears
Bring me your emotions — your tattered
rain-soaked worries, your cold, cramping fears
Bring me all your joy, pain, and wisdom
Bring me your hates — your skin crawling
chalkboard-scratching dislikes
Bring me your broken dreams

So that I can understand your life
and I will relate on your faults
So you are not alone in your world of hatred and greed
So that I can understand your pain
and understand the weight of who you are 
I will hold your emotions — not as who you are,
not even as the many-facetted diamond of who you are,
but I will hold them as feathers — light leavings
of flight that I blow away
with a kiss

Inspired by Langston Hughes, “The Dream Keeper”

📸 Featured Image: Original illustration by Alexa Strabuk 譚文曠.

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