Exiting the Mantrap

This poem was originally published in Entropy. Click to read it there in its original formatting.

/man·trap/ noun / a room or area used for access control, containing a series of doors that cannot be open at the same time to prevent unauthorized entry as permissioned individuals enter or exit

From inside,

I see them at a distance

through layers of black fence

beyond the entry gate

the Treasury Department shares

with the White House.

I see them approach the guardhouse

on Pennsylvania Avenue

as I approach it too

my legs striding

along the path

between the two buildings

to exit the complex

to pick up lunch.


A single magnolia blossom

faces the East Wing,

hangs from the old trees on my right,

evidence that spring happened

before April’s late frost.

For over a week,

I spot it each day.

I reach for my phone.

I want to take a picture

but have some recollection

photography is not allowed

inside the complex

so I don’t.


As I approach the first gate,

they pile into the mantrap,

watched by the guards,

a small crowd of ten, maybe,

bursting to spill from its confines,

uncertain of how to get through,

careful to follow directions

of a woman with a clipboard

and not to surprise the guards.


From experience, I know

our orderly passing,

our safety,

depends on cooperation,

consideration of others,

and some patience.


I push open the hidden handle of the gate,

swing it open,


and smile

at a tall man

in the crowd

who walks through.


I wonder who he is,

who accompanies him,

which building they are headed to,

what they think of me

in my navy office pants,

pearlescent white blouse,

cat-eye sunglasses,

and olive green hijab.

What they would think of me

if I were not so polished this day.

If that would be better,

or worse.


White, white, black, white,

the small crowd follows

one at a time,

brown, black, white, white.

I can smell each person,

freshly washed and shaven.

A brand-new, bright red baseball cap

reads “Make America Great Again.”

After it passes by, another, and

a small white button that reads

“I (heart) Trucks.”


When the blood courses louder through my veins

with fear, that I will misstep or be misunderstood,

I remember to look into each pair of eyes,

and I wonder about his story,

how many miles he drove last week,

if it was as long or longer than my longest road trip,

if he has a family waiting for him,

or not,

someone he is chasing after,

kids who miss him or act out or both,

what he is saving up for,

what she cares about,

what challenges him on the road,

and what he hopes to talk about today.


“Thank you,” says one person.

“I’m sorry,” says another.

I know he means he sees me

holding the gate

waiting patiently

for his group

to make their way

to my side of the mantrap.