portion of the artwork for Paul Hostovsky's poetry
Other People’s Pain
Paul Hostovsky

My dentist told me when I was ten
that some people don’t even need Novocain—
different thresholds for different
ten-year-olds. This was in Irvington
New Jersey in 1968, right after
I thrashed and bucked in his chair
which reared up on its hind legs
when the Novocain didn’t work, and the pain
for which there were no words in the whole
world wouldn’t fit inside my head.
And I started to cry.
I still can’t get my head around
other people’s pain being any
different from mine. And I have yet to meet
someone who can fit the pain of the world
into the tiny cavity of a deciduous tooth
without a little Novocain. That being said,
it’s hard to imagine the pain of all the people
in pain all over the world. I can only
really imagine the pain of one person—
because I am only one person—and even that
is made complicated by what a dentist said
about thresholds when I was ten. I suspect
I’m a wimp. I suspect another person—
a better person or a stronger person or just
a person with a higher threshold for pain—
wouldn’t crumple under the pain that is my pain
if it were theirs. But if it were theirs,
and if they were one of the tribe that needs
Novocain, and if the Novocain didn’t work,
I could imagine that. I could have compassion.

FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 35 | Winter 2012