On kookaburras with nothing to laugh about

July 1, 2010

I wanted to play spot the difference, but in the absence of the photograph I’m sure I took last month of the pair of kookaburras in the Bronx zoo, I’ll just tell you. And there is a difference, contra certain suggestions that the representational violence of a photograph is as bad as a cage. This kookaburra, who loves to perch in our backyard, especially at dusk, to eye out doomed lizards, before shifting perhaps to the nearby bushland, or the smorgasbord of the soccer oval, and who loves a good racket, he and his mates, who kindly enough share their amusement with the treebound houses, sometimes so cynically as to remind you just how much of a farce this whole caper is … this kookaburra, when he wants to fly off, well, he just goes. He’s already long gone. He isn’t stopped by the borders of this frame. Unlike the exhibitionary apparatus in which those two New York kookas are framed and contained (replica treebranches and all) to provide a million fleeting live snapshots. They are still there. I never got to ask the keepers if they laugh, if they even still give voice to that call so distinctive that the Wiradjuri people (in sly accord with Adam) could only fling the din back at them. Does a caged kookaburra still laugh? Is a kookaburra that doesn’t laugh its own onomatopoeic name still a kookaburra? Of course it is. And yet … it would be a laugh unheard by the ears of country. The muted laugh of an inmate, perhaps only noted in sadness by a few of its equally incongruous counterparts. I don’t know if I would take the trouble.

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