“An Obedience Experiment” by Sonya Taaffe

Sonya Taaffe


At customs, they confiscate your daughter
like a forged passport.

Today they cuff a child in an airport,
tomorrow they throw him from the walls of Troy.

The man on the other side of the one-way mirror
breaks his name open, offering

irrefutable as a half-life in hell
six hundred and thirteen reasons to be kind.

We who have only one reason to be cruel
catch our eyes in the mirror, waiting for our cue.

Poets Respond
February 12, 2017


Sonya Taaffe: “The night before I wrote this poem, I read an article on the implementation of the new administration’s travel ban and knew from the first lines that I would find Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiment cited somewhere in it. The citizen infant separated from her non-citizen mother was not mentioned, but I had been thinking of her for some time. The mythological possibilities of Milgram’s name (מילגרוים, milgroym—“pomegranate” in Yiddish) were brought to my attention by Michael Almereyda’s Experimenter: The Stanley Milgram Story, which I recommend to anyone with an interest in either Milgram’s life and research or Brechtian biopics generally. The pomegranate in Jewish tradition is often said to contain 613 seeds, the number of mitzvot in the Torah. The working title of this poem was ‘Stanley Milgram’s Ghost Is Disappoint.’” (website)

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