Illustration depicting a tan-and-white chessboard against a burgundy background. A guillotine and three chess pieces stand on the board: a queen piece and two pawns.


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 learn more about Pongo’s work of inspiring healing and relief in youth coping with mental and emotional turmoil, register for Pongo Poetry Night, its upcoming event at Third Place Books Ravenna


by a young person, age 17

My life’s a game of chess —
you make the wrong moves, 
you get your life taken.
Sometimes I have nothing but my brother,
I followed his steps.
I regret choosing this life — 
my mom tried her best.
But when I grow older 
I’m gonna get rich,
put some money in her pockets
and buy her a crib.
The only plotting I been 
doing is up in my cell,
Caught a fade once or twice
and sent them to hell
Got respect on my name
my name ringing them bells
Call me lefty in these streets
I never will tell.


by a young person, age 15

My life’s a game of boxing,
where when u get knocked down 9 times,
you got to get up too.
Sometimes, I’ve had nothing but my own choice
and I’ve had to make the best decision.
The competition?
They’re coming for me in the form of Haters, supporters, family, and friends.
But on my side, I’ve got my son.
There’s luck in this game, like when YOU’RE losing
but end up winning.

There’s skill required in this game — like that time
I remember when I knew it was unfair,
but I still had to fight.
Winning for me is a crown of glory
but risky because it’s addicting.

Losing can feel nerve-wrecking
though YOU never know what it feels like to lose
if YOU’RE always winning.
I learned the rules from my big brother,
telling me to protect YOUR face and to not quit till it’s over.

In this game of my life,
I’m on fire most when I have self-confidence
and in the stand, watching, I know there’s my family and my son,
cheering me on, saying:
Come on. U got this.


by a young person, age 17

Children ask why
Teenagers question rules,
Adults question life,
And our elders question the past.
What does that make me if I think about all 4?

Does that make me a toddler attempting to walk?
Does that make me a rebellious son?
Does that make me a bumbling college student?
Or does it make me a senile old fool?

What happens when you throw a rock
at the wall of the ISS (International Space Station)?

What happens if you go to war for the right reasons
but the actions are towards the wrong cause?

And what happens when you’re a 17-year-old mixed kid
struggling to find a place in the world
where they tell you “find your people”
and you don’t have “your people”?

And the only source of hope you have
is the one in a million chance
that you find somebody like you?

What happens then?

🎨 Featured illustration by Alexa Strabuk 譚文曠.

Before you move on to the next story …
The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With over 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible. 
If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn't have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference. 
We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!