Illustration depicting yellow-orange bowls on a blue textured surface. Red chopsticks rest on the bowls and the background is a navy-blue and red-striped checkered pattern.

PONGO POETRY: The Bowl of Worries

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 in youth coping with mental and emotional turmoil, join Pongo’s certification pilot program this spring!


By a young person, age 14

I’m nervous
Because of Covid
I don’t want to get Covid after I’m discharged
the first week of December

I’m looking forward to seeing my dog and my cat
I haven’t seen them for seven months
I’m nervous that I might not be able to see my dog
He’s getting old, so maybe I’ll see him,
but I still worry

If I could put my worry somewhere
I’d put it in a box that I don’t ever have to deal with
one I’d never have to open again
I’d seal it up
and burn it
and smash the ashes
and go eat ice cream

I worry about…what it’s going to be like when I come home

My Dad runs a camp and sometimes we help with it
With Covid there aren’t many people at the camp
The camp is very quiet
It makes me feel empty
like an empty bowl of loneliness
I’d like to fill the bowl with hope
and belonging

I’m very social
When I’m around people it makes me feel less lonely
When it’s not as quiet
I don’t feel like that empty bowl

I have a lot of worries
Just a month or two ago I was so excited to go home
Now that I actually know my date I’m scared to go home

I think I’m just scared to make another mistake
Because I don’t want to hurt the people that I care about again

I’m planning to get a new haircut
And a new clothing style
Maybe change my name
I want to start over and leave what I used to be behind

I’ve done a lot of work here
CSTC has been super supportive with my self-doubt
Helping me recognize my mistakes
And how I have hurt some people
And learning how to repair it with those people and move on

But just because I’ve made mistakes
That doesn’t mean I am a mistake or a disease
It just means I may need a little more support
Along the way

And when I go home
I think I’ll be prepared—
I’ll have my toolbox
and I’ve got my support along the way
and I’m finally ready to come to the end of the race


By a young person, age 12

I am painting my self-portrait.

For this work I have chosen the colors of black for the dark times
and yellow for the good times.

The dark times
Are when I struggle
The many places I’ve been that haven’t worked.
I’ve been to many: five, but those five, very many times.

The good times
Are when I’m at home
And when I’m happy.
My mom, my brother,
My pets, my family
They just make me feel
More positive.

The background of my self-portrait will have fire:
A big forest fire,
Because at the time,
I was going through struggles
And the times I’ve been having here are a struggle,
And I’m still working on getting better.

In my self-portrait I will be holding a picture of my baby brother
For the reason that I never get to see him
Because he died.
His picture will make me feel happy.
He was, one time, here in this world,
And he was here for twelve hours
and tried to survive,
But he couldn’t.

In my self-portrait,
my eyes will look like a python’s eyes:
Cool and blue.

When people see my self-portrait, I think they will say,
“This is inspiring,”
because they may have gone through it.

I would like to give my self-portrait to my mom
because I appreciate the way she helps me.

The title of my self-portrait will be,
“This is Me.”


By a young person, age 17

As I look out the frost-covered window
of the half-working rickety car
I wonder…how did I get here

When I was younger
my parents were together—
but never together

My mom had extended stays at the hospital
that seemed like eternities to a six-year-old kid

And my dad chose not to be around
whether or not she was here

When he was around though
time seemed to slow
and moments of pain seemed to grow

It seemed that he chose
the sensations of his own pleasure
over the safety and happiness of the children
that he willingly brought into this world

I swore to myself
that I would never look into a mirror
and see the face of my father on my own
I would never
make the mistakes that he did

Now as I drive home from therapy
brought on by these pains of the past
I look out the window as the sky darkens
and I see his face looking back at me

📸 Featured Image: Illustration by AlexaStrabuk 譚文曠.

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