Daniel Gutstein

On Sensitivity: A Brief Philosophy of Political Choice

Volume 14:4, Fall 2013
Prose Poem Issue

On Sensitivity: a Brief Philosophy of Political Choice

The dentist drilled my tooth without any anesthetic, but in the air was, maybe I need an anesthetic. He said, “Raise your left hand if you feel any sensitivity” but I’m like “Why the left—because I’m a liberal?” but he’s like “Hey, I’m from Brooklyn!” so I said, “If I raise my left hand due to sensitivity, will you raise your left hand to acknowledge my sensitivity?” We tested it out once, in the absence of sensitivity, me raising my left hand, he raising his left hand, but in the end, it wasn’t the moment I’d hoped for—you know, a camaraderie amongst everyday people in my life: train conductors, specialized personnel, troubleshooters, certificate holders, dentists, et cetera. He continued to drill my tooth without anesthetic, so I got to thinking about sensitivity. Am I too sensitive? Are we Americans too sensitive? How many people, at the moment, are raising their left hands due to sensitivity? Shoot: how many people, at the moment, are raising their right hands, due to sensitivity? Isn’t that the crux of the political problem we face? If more Americans raise their left hands than their right hands then maybe we could elect the sensitive guy. A small piece of metal sprang into the back of my mouth but the dentist plucked it out, deftly. “Thanks for not swallowing that!” he said. He sat down and took off his mask. “It’s all over,” he added. “You didn’t need any anesthesia.” He stared at the far dentistry horizon. I said, “That’s a good thing, right? Not needing anesthesia.” Because if we put aside the sensitivity then we might not need to signal our discomfort again—and we could raise any hands we wanted, or better yet, no hands at all.


Daniel Gutstein is the author of two collections, Bloodcoal & Honey (Washington Writers Publishing House, 2011), and non/fiction (Edge Books, 2010). His writing has appeared in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, American Scholar, the Penguin Book of the Sonnet, and Best American Poetry. He is co-director of a forthcoming documentary film on the standard American tune, "Li'l Liza Jane," and is a lyricist and vocalist for the punk-jazz band, Joy on Fire. To read more by this author, see the Winter 2004 issue, the Evolving City issue, his profile of Dudley Randall for the Memorial Issue, and his interview with Rod Smith for the Profiles Issue.