Pongo Project Journal

Sharing stories of our work with teens
Mar 20
Poetry, Demons, and Dragons

We called the 12-year-old boy out of class to invite him to write poetry with Pongo. Kris (a pseudonym) was new to the psych hospital and here he sat among five adults, strangers, while we waited for other youth to join our poetry workshop. I thought he was very brave and patient to be with us. His dark eyes darted, looking at us and around the school room while we chatted with him. His smile was constant and awkward.

Another teen arrived and we began discussing poetry – with a prompt about what we see when we look inside ourselves. Kris didn’t want to talk, and he explained why: When he looked inside himself, he saw a demon.

One of the Pongo volunteers, Shaun, who was sitting next to Kris, took a piece of paper and a pencil, and in a very quiet and comforting way, asked Kris questions and wrote down his words to create a poem together. Kris’s words were disjointed, but they contained a poetic sense that Shaun captured – Kris looked inside himself and saw a brain, and it was also like a foot, and if you moved your pencil Kris’s eyes could follow that pencil, and Kris’s hands could grab someone else’s water bottle, and Kris’s hands could cover his face, and Kris could look in the mirror.

Here is the poem that Shaun helped Kris create…


If you could look inside of me
You’d find a brain. My brain is like
A foot because it is a foot. It controls a foot.
My brain is like an eye because it is an eye.
Move your pen up and down—see
My eyes follow it.

If you could look inside of me
You’d find a brain that is light
As a feather floating
Into spikes
Then into the water.

If you could look inside of me
You could find a brain
That controls my flatulence
And my fingers
That reach out to grab
A water bottle
My face
To see on a mirror.

To me, Kris’s poem is a wonderful illustration of the special appropriateness of poetry in healing. The deepest and most complicated meaning is often symbolic and associative. Perhaps that’s our best approach to truth at certain times in our lives, perhaps that’s a necessary approach to truth at any time.

I don’t know Kris beyond this encounter. My own reading of his poem is that it’s about control. What can the brain control? It can control feet and eyes, maybe. Can it really control flatulence? Can it control thoughts that seem like spikes? Maybe there’s a part of you that you don’t like and that is beyond your control. Can you look in the mirror without putting your hand over your face?

After Shaun worked with Kris, the group broke up to work individually, each with a Pongo mentor. The young people chose lots, and Kris was paired with Pongo volunteer Eli. Without missing a beat in Kris’s emotional and artistic evolution, Eli helped Kris to write a poem about dragons – there is a heart dragon in Kris that battles his demon. Kris is being hurt in this fight. He understands that for the battle to end, Kris has to go inside himself to become more aware.

Kris’s second poem is included below. I admire the work of Pongo’s volunteers Shaun and Eli. I admire Kris’s development as a poet. I thank Kris for permission to publish his poems, and I thank Kris’s mom for her support.

Fight to the Death 

There are multiple dragons in me
One dragon is my heart, my soul
He is somebody I lean to
When I cry, when I dread

Dragons used to exist
They found a perfectly preserved carcass
High in the Himalayan Mountains
Another chamber of the cave held the mother and the child

My heart dragon protects me from people that are bad:
Murderers, traitors, and serial killers

In a past life, I was a soldier and a dragon connected his heart to mine
There is also a demon in me
When I get mad, my heart dragon protects me by trying to stop me
I have two souls: one is a dragon, the other is a demon
They are damaging my inner heart in their fight
I can feel the sharp pains in my chest

Neither one has triumphed
Until I go inside of myself and try figuring this out
They won’t stop

They are trying to kill each other
I want the dragon to triumph