Illustration depicting a profile of a Black-presenting individual with a wide open mouth and green hissing cobra slithering out against a background of yellow and red striped patterns.

PONGO POETRY: Self-Discovery Jigsaw

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!

Content Warning: Discussion of child abuse


by a young person at CSTC

I started off with my step-dad
and everything was okay.
We used to hang out. He was nice

but every time I did something wrong
in his eyes, he’d whip me with a belt
and curse. This led me to start cursing

even at a young age. Now when I’m angry
I curse and act violent. I regret it so much.
It changed my life, sending me into treatment.

I had the tongue of a snake. It slowly destroyed
my prey — everyone I encountered who made me mad.
It’s ruining my life. It feels terrible.

The violence swallowed my personality whole
and now I’m in the belly of a snake. It’s dark and gruesome.
There are creatures taunting me. You are nothing

You’re just a small, little coward. No one really cares.
Maybe now the only way I can find my way again
is if somebody — friend or family member — helps me

to kill the beast who swallowed me whole.


by a young person at CSTC

I am a human.
I have values and I have choices.
It doesn’t mean
that I make all the right choices all the time
or that I don’t hurt
other people’s feelings.

But I’m still a good person because
I’m only human.

I have character and I have imagination.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t have bad
or hurtful thoughts
and it doesn’t mean that I don’t hurt people
with my characteristics also.

But I’m still a good person because
I’m only human.

I have love and I have compassion.
It doesn’t mean that I’m not ever
rude to people or even my loved ones.

But I’m still a good person because
I’m only human.

I have resilience and strength in me.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t ever hurt
or feel alone.

But I’m still a good person because
I’m only human.

I have patience and I have time
but it doesn’t mean I don’t ever get angry
or feel like giving up at times.

But I’m still a good person because
I’m only human.

And that’s okay. I don’t expect perfection.
I just respect acceptance of me
from myself and others.


by a young person at CSTC

My hair is like an afro.
Well, a small afro. It feels like soft, like tree leaves.
I’m 5’ 8”, if you estimated it. I’m tall!
I like it because I can see things
farther, over people’s heads, the top of a tree —
with navel oranges in it. I just discovered I like those.

It seems like part of me is another person,
like my conscience. 
You know how consciences
are supposed to help you? Well, mine
doesn’t. Mine says mean things to me like
Well, you didn’t do that or whatever
it wants to say. It wants to make me mad
sometimes. If I could, I’d ask, Could you stop
and help me?

I have a big family, my mom,
my sister, and my grandmother
and we like to do puzzles.
My grandma keeps talking to the puzzle.
Can you believe that?
She says, Where does this piece go?
and Come on, puzzle!
I remind her You’re talking to yourself again
just to make her laugh.

I wish that the puzzle piece would fit
and the puzzle would just be done.

🎨 Featured illustration by Alexa Strabuk 譚文曠.

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