ROCKLAND, Maine — In a white-walled room on the third floor of an old school in Rockland, a wall of windows allows sun to stream in and touch dozens of stories, as told by Maine military personnel who took snapshots and scribbled poetry while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The “Through Their Own Eyes” exhibit displayed this month provides a mostly uplifting view of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Boys play soccer with soldiers, the sun rises over military vehicles, camels roam the desert, soldiers hug their babies in the airport.The exhibit starts with a picture of tan Light Medium Tactical Vehicles lined under a sky rippling with the sunrise’s colors, expanding from yellow to pink out to blue at the edge of the photograph. Its artist, Staff Sgt. Esther Kazian, who lives in Plymouth, said the photo was taken at Fort Hood in Texas before she was deployed to Afghanistan.
“I’m a professional classical musician who took a sabbatical to work as a music teacher here in 2001,” she said Monday.
Shortly after Sept. 11, Kazian enlisted. Her father bought her an Olympus camera not much bigger than a deck of cards. It is dustproof, shatterproof and waterproof, she said. She carried it in her cargo pants pocket.
While on a detail in Kandahar to help teach local schoolchildren through games, she took the camera out again. The result is a poster-size photo hung in a modest frame in Rockland. The boy, in a vest and cap holds his arms out from his sides, far from his body — a soccer ball in each palm.
“That boy, he had my attention because he was clearly in charge of all the little boys out there. It was because he had the most money,” she said. “He was wearing a watch and a vest and a hat. All the other boys deferred to him, because he was wealthier than they were. It was interesting, their culture.”
The boy is squinting one eye and his mouth is turned down a bit, but Kazian said he was jubilant that day.
“He was helping the GIs,” she said.
When she got home, Kazian compiled a DVD of her photography for the people she was deployed with.
“I showed it to someone when I came back to Maine, and they told other people about it and it became a thing,” she said.
A woman then approached her and asked if she could hang her works in the gallery. Kazian has not yet seen the exhibit, but hopes to, she said.
Next to Kazian’s work, and integrated throughout the entire show are poems by Chaplain Earl Weigelt. The poems pair well with the seemingly lighthearted photographs of a serious conflict, as they tend to depict solemn scenes that each end on high notes of hope.
One poem about Christmas in Kandahar talks about missing loved ones and the monotony of Weigelt’s days at the time.
“‘Groundhog Day’ grinds on and on/one day just like another,” he wrote. The poem ends, “We’re going home soon!”
Weigelt juxtaposes lachrymose scenes of crying soldiers mourning their friends with near laugh-out-loud humor. His poem “Kandahar 286” begins, “The dust! Friggin dust! ‘It’s enough to make a preacher cuss!’/I mumble to no one in particular.” The poem then discusses the death of other soldiers and taps playing before rolling back to another hopeful conclusion, “But to keep it all safe, we count on each other and we’re all driving on, looking forward to greetings and embraces and kisses and thankful that GOD has shed us His grace.”
In a recent interview, Weigelt described his poems as snapshots.
“That’s what the writing is like, snapshots with words. I wasn’t personally struggling with feeling like I was losing hope, but that was still an exciting thing that was part of the daily reality check,” he said. “It won’t be like this forever. There is an end of the tunnel as far as completing the deployment and being back with loved ones.”
As a chaplain, now based in Augusta, Weigelt helps soldiers with morale and personal concerns and teaches coping mechanisms and more.
“Putting pen to paper was part of my own stress management at that time,” he said of his deployment to Afghanistan.
Weigelt’s poems are set on sand-colored paper among photos of the desert.
One landscape in the exhibit is simply identified as being taken by R. Clifford, who was deployed in Iraq in 2006-2007. The photo captures a long horizontal line of more than 50 camels in a desert. The animals seem to stand in their line, their humps creating a mountainous terrain in the level, seemingly barren desert.
By the end of the exhibit, the photographs wheel around to America where soldiers embrace their families and each other within the frames.
Several of the photos are marked anonymous, so it is difficult to tell exactly how many service members are involved in the exhibit.
The service-member-only art show is sponsored by Maine Military and Community Services of the Maine National Guard.
“Through Their Own Eyes” is open 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday through Friday until Feb. 11 at the Lincoln Street Center’s Jean B. Chalmers Gallery.
• • •
Should something called “aircraft” resemble a hippo?
Or maybe a buffalo, perhaps a rhino?
Great bulbous goggle-eyed flying machine
that snarls and whumps and clatters and claps
tilling the sky to the tucked-away places?
Death-dealers poking out proudly through hatches,
swiveled and belt-fed and eager to chatter
a hot stream of .30 cal Doom and Destruction
on menace-bent Taliban lurking below.
Inscrutable, shade-helmeted, silent hard men
solidly planted and straddling door-guns
tethered and head-setted, all primed for action,
half-hoping (half not) to lock on a target
below or “Right there!” or even above
up in those crags, proned-out on the rocks.
Of course there’s that high pitched, incessant whine
and that churning vibration and rattle and hum
that unnerves the newcomer but rocks old salt to sleep
wedged in with cargo, IBA’d, ACH’d;
with headphones and chew bottle and scooby snack bag,
rucksack and Camelback, Gerber and IFAK.
And that smell — no, aroma
of fuel and exhaust, of hot metal and gunsmoke!
It fills up the bay, made stronger by heat,
rides desert dust and clings to your face.
It stays with you later — it visits that dream
where in a Chinook those mountains loom large,
the ground slipping below
and she banks, then she levels and plops on the deck
at Mizan or Baylough, Day Chopan or at Lane.