Pongo Project Journal

Sharing stories of our work with teens
Feb 25
The Last Time

THE LAST TIME


I remember the first time,

I came to Seattle,

Hitchhiking,

Riding freight trains.


Whatever would take me somewhere.


I finally landed here,

Think I hitchhiked in,

Made a home.


Wound up in Pioneer Square,

Sleeping in the park.


I remember,

Couldn’t wait to get out of there.


Bounced around town for awhile,

Sleeping here,

Sleeping there.


Finally got tired of sleeping in the sleep off,

The drunk tank.

Ended up over here.

Been 11 years.


The shit I’ve seen.

Have your old lady die on your lap.

In her apartment,

Right down the hall.

Not one of my fondest memories.


I remember the last time,

I had a beer.

Wasn’t soon enough for me.



The first time I stepped into 1811 Eastlake, I didn’t know what to expect.  I’d worked with people experiencing homelessness in my day-job, helping connect them to food assistance programs and health benefits, but I knew this would be different.  We’d make art together, write poetry and give a voice to life on the street for a chronic alcoholic.


After each time I sat with a resident to bring their stories to the page, even the short sessions that didn’t seem significant, I’d read back on their words and realize how real each of these people were with me.  Creating a safe space, not asking anything of them but to talk about whatever they had on their mind was powerful, heart wrenching and honest.  Witnessing the words come forth and hearing their unique perspectives turned into poetry has been life changing, certainly for me and hopefully for the people of 1811.


In those times of quiet writing in the Art Room or the corner of the Community Room, within the chaos of their daily search for the next drink, we talked of memories that usually stayed deep and were seldom spoken.  I worked with two different authors (on the same day) who each watched people die in their arms.  I learned how when times get really tough, some will turn to hand sanitizer to ‘get well’.   I also heard uplifting stories of kindness on the streets, twenty-dollar bills dropped in guitar cases for singing Patsy Cline, the etiquette of holding a sign on the corner and who gets first dibs on the best spots to panhandle.  I found that there are many musicians, some who still play guitar, piano and harmonica and others who pawned their gear long ago.


When we finished the first eight-week session, we held a reading so the 1811 authors would have a chance to share their words.  In between sporadic interruptions from inebriated residents, we heard some of the most open, heartfelt and tragic words one could imagine.   We were also told that Pongo, “changed the ecology of this place.” We gave people a space to be creative, open and calm.  Listening and writing with the authors at 1811 is inspiring and knowing that we are giving a voice and documenting small parts of their incredibly interesting lives is a true honor. 


(The poem at the beginning of this post is by a resident who passed away shortly after we wrote together.  Before working with me, he had never written poetry in his life.  This blog post is dedicated to him.  May he rest in peace.)   


    

— Jefferson Rose, Mentor at Downtown Emergency Service Center’s 1811 Eastlake Housing