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Roll Over, Bell
Paul Hostovsky


When I see Deaf people signing into their smartphones—
singing into their smartphones—I can’t help
thinking of Alexander Graham Bell,
enemy of sign language, oralist, teacher
of the Deaf, and inventor of the telephone—
the single greatest handicap
to Deaf people’s pursuit of jobs and happiness
for a hundred and fifty years. I imagine him rolling over
with Beethoven, whose own deafness was variously
attributed to syphilis, lead poisoning, typhus,
his habit of immersing his head in cold water
to stay awake while composing. Roll over,
Beethoven, and tell Tchaikovsky the news:
the Deaf are singing into their cell phones, signing
into their cell phones. Signing is the most beautiful singing
the world has ever seen, I whisper to Bell, who doesn’t
see it--though he can’t stop staring. He grabs a fistful
of his own beard, as if to pinch himself awake
from this impossible dream he never dreamt because
of a failure of his imagination. Watson, come here, I want you…
to see this. The dream that any Deaf
Tom, Dick, or Harry or John, Paul, George, or Ringo
or Ludwig with two thumbs could punch in a number
and see the most beautiful singing the world has ever seen
and understand what it means—that dream is coming true.

From Late for the Gratitude Meeting (Kelsay Books, 2019).
Used here with permission.


Paul Hostovsky starting writing poetry in the fifth grade, inspired by his novelist father. Today, he is the author of more than a dozen books and his award-winning poems have been featured in a wide variety of print and online journals. Paul lives in Boston, where he is a sign language interpreter. Learn more about him at



Post New Comment:
Well written and moving!
Posted 09/20/2023 12:44 AM
Excellent. Poignant, humorous and well-crafted. Tell Tchaikovsky the news! He and Beethoven would love this poem.
Posted 09/18/2023 07:46 PM
Wow, wonderful!
Posted 09/18/2023 06:07 PM
Lori Levy:
This is great!
Posted 09/18/2023 03:08 PM
Thank you, Paul, for your poem--it's great.
Posted 09/18/2023 01:08 PM
What an exquisite morning lesson you have given us, Paul. A reluctant cell phone user, you have lightened my burden of distaste; given me a reason to say hallelujah in territory where I am fluent in hazards. A masterful, enlightening poem. Thank you.
Posted 09/18/2023 12:25 PM
Such a beautiful lineage of musicians enter the poem, all applauding the music of sign language.
Posted 09/18/2023 12:06 PM
Leslie Hodge:
So clever! And eye (and ear?) opening.
Posted 09/18/2023 12:03 PM
Paul, I love your poem--it is magnificent! I have to share it with my friend who lost her hearing eight years ago. Now the cellphone picks up my voice and translates it so she can read it from her cellphone!
Posted 09/18/2023 11:20 AM
Wilda Morris:
Love it!
Posted 09/18/2023 10:07 AM
Carol Clearwater:
Love these words, "this impossible dream he never dreamt because of a failure of his imagination". Would love to have crafted that bit myself, well done Paul.
Posted 09/18/2023 09:50 AM
My first computer visit each morning is to
Posted 09/18/2023 09:13 AM
liz dolan:
Yes Paul, your humor gives us all hope.
Posted 09/18/2023 09:00 AM
Darrell Arnold:
Poignant, clever, and humorous.
Posted 09/18/2023 08:37 AM
American Sign Language IS poetry in motion!! and you have celebrated piece of that with such clarity. How did it not occur to me what a gift the iPhone is to the signing (singing) world. Hallelujah . Looking forward to meeting you in Plymouth soon.
Posted 09/18/2023 08:36 AM
Paul is the Johnny B Goode of poetry.
Posted 09/18/2023 08:10 AM
Larry Schug:
Another amazing Hostovsky poem. Paul is among the absolute finest. This poem is entirely too good to single out a line or a phrase, though I do love the unspoken references to Chuck Berry.
Posted 09/18/2023 07:47 AM
Nabby Dog:
This poem is extraordinary.
Posted 09/18/2023 07:18 AM

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