Abstract art depicting a heart-shaped lock with multicolored paintbrush strokes across the lock and door.


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 the Pongo Poetry Circle today.


by a young person at CSTC

Dear Y,

You were supposed to love me.
Supposed to take care of me.
Supposed to intimidate boys
if they ever asked me out.
But you were never around to do that.

Your absence is like me being stranded
on an island,
and no matter how hard
I try to swim, and escape,
I never find a way out
and you never show up
to help me.

Whenever I think of a father,
I never think of you.
I never think of what could have happened.
Why bother?
ʼCuz in the end,
you’ll never show up.
It makes me want to ask
Did you ever try? Like, really try?

Because with addiction,
I’ve had to try.
I’ve had to work hard
I’ve had to wake up in the morning
I’ve had to deal with the shit
that life gives you.

But you
just took the easy way.
You don’t have to worry
about waking up
and dealing with what life gives you.
I’ve felt the struggle of wanting to give up
and leave earth,
but in the end,
how can I leave a family
like you left me?

Instead of thanks for nothing,
thanks for showing
me that life is shit. Yet
I’d never leave
those I love.


by a young person at CSTC

You see that I hurt
You see that I struggle
Like self-harming
Like being aggressive
Pushing people away
A mother bear defending her cubs
But defending myself
Because you don’t know me

You would know me if
You knew how hard it was to open up and trust people
When you do open up you just get hurt again
Opening an old wound
That just keeps bleeding and won’t stop
Like there’s no hope for anything to get better
Anything to change

You see that I shut down
Not talking
Not eating
You see that I cry
Because you don’t know

You would know me if
You knew how I laugh
Joking with my friends
Hanging out with my siblings

You would know me if
You knew how I love music
Listening to Matthew West
Playing the flute
Calming me down
Making me happy

You would know me if you knew how much I loved you.

Dedicated to my mom.


by a young person at CSTC

In a small house
in that tiny back bedroom
A door sits and waits for you

behind its walls
wonders flow and waits
love flows and waits
hope waits and flows
kindness waits and flows
Just behind this door

Still fear the unknown
Still fear change
Still use of feeling

No more
No more
open your door
tear down those walls
tear them
drop open your blinds

Undo your locks
Undo your chains

Walk out into the unknown
behind this door
I will wait
Love will wait
Hope will wait
Kindness will wait

In you
This place lives
Within love

Open your door
tear down your walls
and walk out.

Walk in wonder
That waits for you.

Dedicated to the world and to the little bits of fear.

📸 Featured Image: Photo by Diana Taliun/Shutterstock.com with editing by Emerald staff.

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!