not just what was said, but also everything it sounded like
As far as I know he was a large parrot named Cesar. A big favorite. A beloved pet. He was inherited by my friend when her husband’s grandmother died. There may have been some sibling rivalry over the bird. It was considered a prize. And this bird spoke and talking birds hold secrets and release revelations in the declaration of what they have learned to say through the hearing of oft repeated sounds.
A bird who imitates what it hears learns the regular, the repeated, it learns to imitate without prejudice. It learns by rote. And it learns without embellishment. So the family learned a bit about grandma’s habits. In addition to usual lines the parrot was taught intentionally, words specifically considered charming for parrots to say, he also said [with conspiratorial fervor]: “I’m going to talk to Kenny!” Kenny was the next door neighbor.
But the most puzzling noise that the bird made was a kind of murmuring with pauses which, though strangely familiar, was almost completely unintelligible. It took awhile to hear what it was the bird was imitating. After all, like David Attenborough’s birds in the rainforest, (the lyre birds who were recorded by Chris Watson during the making of one of Attenborough’s nature pieces, and who imitated exactly the sounds of camera shutters and of chainsaws and of trees crashing to the floor of the forest) a bird does not imitate a sound in isolation, choosing to focus on a singularity but instead captures a sound within an environment and the way it sounds exactly there with all of the resonance and limitation invited by the surrounding surfaces.
My friends with the parrot had to relax their minds as they listened to the inexplicable sound he made in order to sense the totality of it. It had a rhythm and a tone distinctly human without using a single human word. With an aural version of a squint or the kind of cognitive unclenching that releases a fugitive memory, my friend finally realized that Cesar, the parrot, was imitating the sound of a phone conversation as heard from the other side of a closed door. The cadence of speech was distinctly grandmother’s phone voice, the pauses indicated the unheard part of the conversation, and the muddled non-verbal quality was due to the transmission of her words through the closed door between his cage and the kitchen phone.
Posted on Monday, 17 March 2014 by Karen Christopher