A blue-gloved hand injects an apple core with a syringe.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 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 have too much experience 
with love not going well.

My mom loved heroin 
more than she loved me
or anyone else.

My sister’s boyfriend wanted sex 
more than consent
or caring about the fact that I was 6.

My adopted father didn’t care 
enough to stop drinking, even though 
it was leaving me with bruises.

My adopted parents care
more about their son being perfect
than seeing that he’s not okay.

So, this is why
I have no faith in love.


by a young person, age 15 

Pain comes and goes in waves
I wish I could push away all my pain 
and live without pain 

But the pain that I’ve been in will not define me 
I have struggles and so do you

My pain makes me stronger than the day I was born 
Every broken bone 
Every pulled ligament in my body
made me stronger now than three weeks ago 
Stronger than the day I was born 

My pain made me fall before 
Fall in the darkness of night
But I know if I fall 
it’s a choice to get back up 
Or stay down
I choose to get up

My heart may have been broken before
And I stayed down 
My heart still has its missing pieces
But I still survive
The falls that I hit 
on metal, on wood, on rocks, on dirt
Your pain does not stop 
You are strong
like me



by a young person, age 15

Love is complicated
Love is hard
Love sometimes hurts
I wish love was caring and soft
But instead, love has shown me nothing
but bitterness and darkness

When I try to love
I run into a block
It tears me off from the rest of the world
and I’m just alone, not loving
Even when I do love
or when I think I love
I love too easily

I found someone who says they love me
Then they hurt me
Treated me like a punching bag
Using me as a toy
and discarding the leftovers of me
Feeling hurt and broken
I know now not to love so easily
because it only brings you down

📸 Featured Image: Illustration by Alexa Strabuk

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