A woman is pinned by the back of her shirt to a dartboard and hangs there dejectedly. Illustration by Alexa Strabuk

PONGO POETRY: This Is My Story

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 partner with Pongo in inspiring healing and relief in youth coping with mental and emotional turmoil, join their upcoming training on May 21.


THIS IS CHESS NOT CHECKERS

By a young person, age 15

My life’s a game of chess where I can find a strategy I like
A good strategy helps me get through the day
You have to have a strategy to get through the day because
People can try you
They have their own agendas
I never know what their agenda is
I only know mine

Sometimes, I’ve had nothing but a few pieces
and I’ve had to sacrifice to get more

The competition?
They’re coming for me in the form of down players
I don’t like
Their negativity
Their extra-ness

But on my side, I’ve got positivity
And positive thoughts
“I can do it!”
“Keep going!”
These positive thoughts help my mental state

There’s luck in this game,
like when I have faith in myself

There’s skill required in this game—like that time I remember
When my court date got pushed back
I cried
I cried a lot
The amount of crying was not large
Just like a rainy day
Or something
I felt angry…
But hopeful

Winning for me is a celebration
Joy
I’m celebrating with my family—
Happy that I succeeded
Knowing they are happy makes me
Feel good inside

but risky because
People can be haters

Losing can feel…
It makes me feel competitive to compete
To win
I don’t feel anything
I don’t feel good or bad
I just keep going
And never quit


THE STICKY LEADER AND FOLLOWER

By a young person, age 14

My life’s a game of basketball where I lead
And follow sometimes.
I lead when everybody
Who’s around me in a sticky situation
Depends on me.
I follow when I gotta depend on somebody else,
When I need it
Like in a dangerous situation
When I feel panic
And I wonder
When I went wrong.

Sometimes, I’ve had nothing but problems thrown at me
24/7—like girl problems,
Them putting peer pressure on me to…
too many pressures to choose.

and I’ve had to swipe the problems aside as fast as I can
so I can focus on school—
because I want to go to college
and get the stuff that’s going to help me
succeed in life.

The competition? They’re coming for me in the form of
Glue throwing on me, sticking me so
I have to follow someone else
And depend on them
In the sticky situation
Because I can’t unpin myself,
Stuck to the ground.

I could learn something from
Being stuck right there.
If only if I had someone to depend on,
Teach something new
That I can use on somebody else
Someone like my brother
Who could always
Make me laugh
On regular days,
Or when we were hyped up,
Or whether we were just chillin’.


THIS IS MY STORY

By a young person, age 15

My life’s a game of chess where you make a wrong move,
You might get stepped
Sometimes, I’ve had nothing but the stick clutched up
To my chest to protect my life in case,
I get stretched
By some people that I done messed
and I’ve had to pull it out a couple of times
which makes me upset
cuz I ain’t no killer,
but some people just like to put me up to the test.

But on my side, I’ve got my brothers
In case I need protect
And if I need it, my homies will step
Like that time I was in Cali
And I ain’t had no one but the bros,
They slid a couple times
And I guarantee that they ain’t froze.

There’s luck in this game, like when I got some respect to my name
I had to do some stuff I ain’t proud of,
Cuz in the streets it ain’t no game.
If I don’t, then some people might think
They’re able to take me away.
My family needs me,
So I can’t let them think they could take me
Cuz I got to put these bands in my family’s name.

There’s skill required in this game
In case somebody tests me, I gotta work on my aim
Because if I miss, there’s no thought of seeing
Another day.
I’ve always been cool with people
Because I’ve never wanted no opps
In case I’m with my family, I’ve never wanted
Them to drop.

Winning for me is getting these bands
Making sure my family make it,
Because if I don’t, my momma’s gotta go
Through that struggle again
And I couldn’t take it.
Winning’s risky
because the opps don’t like to see me make it

Losing could feel bad because I’ve been there before
Nothing but eating cooked rice,
but every time I finished,
I was hungry for more. But at the time,
Me and my family couldn’t afford.
Share a plate with my brother
In case he needed more.
Yeah, we was poor, but we say
It is what it is. My pops and brothers
Went to jugg the next day
You can never tell me, you felt it like this.

I learned the rules from bein’ in these streets:
Had to play my cards right, because if I don’t
Someone might take my head
For they can eat
And I ain’t no dummy,
I always kept my nose to the street.
Because if I didn’t, they might have taken me.

In this game of my life, I’m always with the tech
In case I see somebody that put me to the test
And if I have to, I’ll put them to the test
and in the stands,
I know there’s opps watching me
in case I make a false move.
Even some of my own friends, some of them tried
To do me too,

But I’m tryin’ to do right.
Tell God to try and forgive me.
I wasn’t tryin’ to live this life
But it was passed down from generations,
So I didn’t think I could be different
But maybe one day,
My homies could look back at my mistakes and
Say thanks for showing me the way,
Because if not, they coulda been another person
To get popped and I don’t wanna be up in the sky
Lookin’ down at my homies
Getting’ dropped.


🎨 Featured illustration by Alexa Strabuk 譚文曠.

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