Pen Pals


Fifth Estate # 405, Winter, 2020

Friends for fifteen years

and never met.

She sends letters across the Atlantic,

then the span of land from east to west

and into the front gates

to be rifled through,

security checked and sometimes rejected,

wheeled along corridors

and doors made of bars,

until reaching

his cell.

It’s always the same time

so every morning he half-waits


and occasionally is rewarded.

He reads the letters over and over,

replies in the evening

on thin lined paper,

and the next one

and the next, scrawling, animated,

asking to hear more about her life

without walls,

tells her he lives vicariously

through her eyes and words,

and in turn writes his young story across the paper,

drawings, lyrics, politics,



like her own but his are condensing,

hardening, cracking

under the weight of concrete and locks.

He transmits energy from his bunk,

back through the walls and across the states,

over the waves, the country roads

and into her letterbox

in the middle of nowhere

where she lives alone

with her children.

His bright yellow letters light up their house

like paper lanterns.

Jessamine O’Connor lives in the west of Ireland. She facilitates The Hermit Collective arts troupe, and coordinates free English classes for immigrants. A new collection of poems, Silver Spoon from Salmon Poetry, will appear in 2020.