Illustration of patchwork nesting dolls with cucumbers for eyes against a grey backdrop. Vines with red flowers scatter throughout the image.

PONGO POETRY: My Once Upon a Time

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 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, join the Pongo Poetry Circle today.


by a young person, age 15

I remember the first time I felt pretty
I felt looked up and down and said, shheesh
From my eyebrows, my clear skin, my dark hair
From my dark-brown eyes, to my finely brushed teeth
I was thirteen. I remember
the summer breeze. It smelled like my makeup to the pound
It felt the beauty of my skin
It felt like
not my shape, not my eyes
It’s my soul
and everything inside


by a young person, age 15

I remember a time, not long ago.
I sat next to a boy whose name I did not know.
He smiled at me, upon saying our names.
A true love was born, & it wasn’t a game.

I started to breathe in his delectable smell,
sighed happily — a pure joy I now know super well.
I have never felt so true,
for since then, I can full-heartedly say, “I love you.”

We all are different in our own special ways.
We can somehow all relate to each other. We share
our own type of love, but never do we relay
the amount of romance from above.


by a young person, age 13 

My heart is life trampling
through and out on my call
in the forest where animals crawl.
Gives comfort for me and for all.
Crickets churfing — rustling, too.
Warmth flowing up through me and you.
I remember the time when a snake
went over me and my favorite shoes.
Scared at first, then love
for them over through.

📸 Featured illustration by Alexa Strabuk 譚文曠..

Before you move on to the next story …
Please consider that the article you just read was made possible by the generous financial support of donors and sponsors. The Emerald is a BIPOC-led nonprofit news outlet with the mission of offering a wider lens of our region’s most diverse, least affluent, and woefully under-reported communities. Please consider making a one-time gift or, better yet, joining our Rainmaker Family by becoming a monthly donor. Your support will help provide fair pay for our journalists and enable them to continue writing the important stories that offer relevant news, information, and analysis. Support the Emerald!