The Ocular Voice
Lenard D. Moore’s A Million Shadows At Noon is a poetic memoir of a day of
atonement, that fateful gathering in Washington, D.C. on October 16, 1995 where a
million plus men willed to absent themselves from the banality of human evil. It was a
special moment in the history of African American emotions, and it resists having its
symbolism resymbolized. The March, or our memory of the ritual, does not resist
serving as the ground for creation. As one of the leading haiku poets in the United States,
Moore understands how deceptively simple forms can be used to make complexity
accessible. His earlier book, Desert Storm: A Brief History (1993), demonstrates how
an Oriental form can enable a poet to avoid some of the limitations of Occidental
narrative poetry. We do not need yet another narrative about October 16, 1995. We do
welcome a poem that enables us to recollect our powerful emotional responses to that day
and to consider how dim or vivid are our memories now.
However much this poem reminds us of Moore’s earlier work, it does represent a
departure. Here the poet has conceptualized his poem as a space for the ocular voice, the
voice that is intimately linked with the photographic and with the hearer’s use of words
as tools for visualizing. Each segment (or caption as it were) demands our supplying a
relevant image from our visual archive—depth, color, magnitude, texture, shape,
illumination. Such a demand is implicit in the philosophical underpinning of haiku. But
the haiku segments in A Million Shadows At Noon are not independent instances. Each
is a stage in a movement from dawn to dusk to the newly promised dawn. As we
experience the full movement, we begin to sense how radical, successful, and
empowering the poem is. Like Sterling A. Brown’s “Strong Men,” this poem is a well-
crafted example of how the poet induces readers to engage in aesthetic/political activity.
After we have photomemoried A Million Shadows At Noon, we discover the
anticipated future is brought to personal closure. The dominance of the optical is
displaced by sound, the invisible eye being transformed into the speaking subject.
The silent witness is embodied fully as
night after the march
reading the million-man pledge
to my pregnant wife
the poet/photographer elicits the absent vows
I will strive to love, to improve, to build
will never raise my hand/abuse my wife/
engage in abuse of children/
use the “B” word
will not poison my body
will support, do all this
At the final center of remembering is man speaking to woman who contains and
nurtures the promised future, the child as continuity, biological verity, and love!
In the end of A Million Shadows At Noon is the initial moment Lenard D. Moore
and his readers share.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
Moss Chair of Excellence in English
University of Memphis
March 17, 1996
A Million Shadows at Noon (A Haiku Sequence)