Illustration depicting two female-presenting silhouettes against an orange background. One silhouette is yellow while the other is a brown and white crossword puzzle.


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 among youth coping with mental and emotional turmoil, join the Pongo Poetry Circle today!


By a young person, age 16

Sometimes I feel like dying
Because I want the pain to go away

Sometimes I feel like using drugs
Because it numbs me

Sometimes I feel like stealing
Because I can have control

Sometimes I feel like purging
Because I think I’m fat

Sometimes I feel like sex is love
Because that’s what I’ve been told

Sometimes I feel like all those sometimes
take over me

But I can’t let those times take over me
I have to take over me


By a young person, age 15

The home base of me
is my heart.
My home base is where
I see everything and everyone
and I help everyone there
when everyone needs help.

I’m the best at helping with
being a good listener
of their struggles.

Struggles never end,
every struggle is different.
I tell them that I don’t understand completely,
but that I’ve been through a similar situation.

Pain makes us who you are.
Pain does not define me,
it makes me stronger for who I am.
It helps us grow.


by a student at CSTC, age 17

This is the place that showed me the way.
Equality is All.
The size of your chest, the curves of the body,
the ridges, the roughness—do not tell
or define who you are.
You may see others and think I want their looks!
I want to be them.
Why do you want the looks of someone you are not?
Keep your life. Live your life! Life is beautiful.
You are beautiful and looks aren’t us.
The heart is us. The deep emotions others don’t have.
The strength of our will to be us. Use it! Love it. Love you.
You are you. Don’t be ashamed.
Be yourself. Love yourself, then others will follow.
Others will love you too.
This place is within your heart.
This place is the place of you.
Life! Keep hold and live.

Dedicated to my teacher.

🎨 Featured illustration by Alexa Strabuk 譚文曠.

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