Thursday, August 2, 2018

A poem in honor of baseball season

The D Sign

When my coach flashes the D sign
my pitching arm better be warm
and ready to retire the side
3 up, 3 down.
Not to get battered
pitching into disaster
my rotator cuff on fire.

Or, stepping up to the plate
the D sign means
don't think about my average
just face down the fastball.
Out of the park
or hard bounce in the infield
whatever brings the run home.

Getting the D sign is serious
strikeouts or homeruns expected.
That's what happens 
when you make the choice
to compete as a

©2018 Noreen Braman

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

INDEPENDENCE DAY 2018 - John Adams and Erma Bomeck

This time of year, I think about my favorite Broadway play, 1776. The music is wonderful, the story well-presented, and perhaps, the fact that I first saw it back when I was an idealistic teenager has something to do with my affection for it.

I could not help but be caught up in the portrayal of John Adams as an annoying buzzing fly (among the other annoying buzzing files in Philadelphia) who doesn't give up on his vision of what a new country, the United States of America, could become — if only his compatriots could see what he saw.

I still get goosebumps just thinking about the roll call at the end and how they all end up frozen in place, to match the famous painting. Yes, the music, the bells, the humor — it accomplishes the whole point of leaving the audience with swelling pride. But also, in some respects, an underlying current of sorrow. Sadness, perhaps, for the distance between aspiration and accomplishment that still exists.

The history of the US is full of bright lights and dark caverns. We have, at times, been the beacon of hope for the world, and at other times lost our way in the shadows. It is a history we must pay attention to, in order to keep the light burning bright, while acknowledging the darkness and keeping it at bay.

This year, I worry, more than I ever have, about the soul of the United States. Our collective minds debate daily what should be the future path, and our hearts are pendulums that traverse from stone-cold indifference to tearful empathy. But our souls seem the most fragile and endangered. At times we seem to teeter on the edge of losing them forever, either through willful abandonment or the sweep of powerful tidal forces.

Dante posted a sign at the gates of Hell, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here." 

Yet, Pandora found that hope could still exist, even in the face of overwhelming tribulations. 

My wish for the US on this Independence Day, is that we choose the path where hope is still the beacon we shine to the world.

Is anybody there?
Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

They want to me to quit; they say
John, give up the fight
Still to England I say
Good night, forever, good night!
For I have crossed the Rubicon
Let the bridge be burned behind me
Come what may, come what may


The croakers all say we'll rue the day
There'll be hell to pay in fiery purgatory
Through all the gloom, through all the gloom
I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory!

Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

I see fireworks! I see the pagaent and
Pomp and parade
I hear the bells ringing out
I hear the cannons roar
I see Americans - all Americans
Free forever more

How quiet, how quiet the chamber is
How silent, how silent the chamber is

Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

Words from Erma Bombeck:

You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy and the flies die from happiness.  You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.  by Erma Bombeck.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Two Tales of Dunkin' Donuts

Today, I read a story in The Outline, by Laura Yan, who decided to spend 24 hours in her neighborhood Dunkin' Donuts - a Brooklyn neighborhood not far from the neighborhood where I spent my early childhood. It also reminded me of my own Dunkin' Donuts poem - a poem that was once published on the website of a popular NPR show that is no longer with us. A poem I can hardly believe I wrote 18 years ago! So, I am sharing it here again, as well as the link to the Brooklyn story.

An unfortunate demolition of the driveup menu from 2007.

Opening Night at the Jamesburg Dunkin Donuts

“We’ve been crushed all day,” says the man behind the counter
who unlike the other workers, wears a crisp, embroidered, denim shirt,
denoting his position as a higher authority, maybe even the franchise owner.
All day long they’ve been doling out coffee, doughnuts and ice cream
like Atlantic City card dealers — here’s your hand, let me scoop up your money.
By 8 PM, the stock is depleted, not a chocolate doughnut in sight
but the ice cream counter can make up for that
even though the night is unseasonably chilly for June
big dollops of mint chocolate chip tantalize the lips of customers
some who stay to revel in the clean newness,
sitting at the burgundy tables, scraping the floor with the heavy wooden chairs,
leaving chocolate sprinkles, doughnut crumbs in their wake.
A huge van equipped for cross-country travel tries to park outside the window
back and forth it goes trying to fit, while the children inside
illegally unrestrained, press their faces against the window.
Finally they are in the space and the door slides open
and out bounds Dad with three in tow — pale blondes,
one for each hand, and one to hold his shirt tail.
Inside he picks up the youngest and stands him on the counter, leaning far over
to see what doughnuts are left.
Hidden behind the line of coffee drinkers, soda buyers and ice cream lickers,
the other two children discover the freezer and it’s all too easy to open the door.
Inside, a wonderland of ice cream cakes, complete with sparkling trims
little plastic graduation hats, diplomas and glitter.
It seems perfectly logical to help daddy out and bring him the cake
and they drag it by the box until the corners give out
and the ice cream cake with its chocolate top
and frozen roses and crunchy bottom
rolls out of the box and onto the floor,
in front of amused coffee drinkers who have no idea that the cake is real.
And daddy, who notices at last, shoves the mutilated frozen treat
back into the box, and back into the freezer,
and quickly departs with his  purchases, and his three little blondes,
two of whom seem confused that they have no ice cream.
Finally some one asks, are those real cakes, or just displays,
and finding out they are indeed consumable,
tells the tale of the upside down cake —
which is immediately removed by the teenage girls
who dish out the ice cream in their white shirts and hats
and the glitter is swept up and the melted ice cream mopped up
as the dealers at the counter don’t miss a beat
pouring the coffee, wrapping the donuts, collecting the money,
smiling and hoping this crush of business
continues after opening night.

©2000 Noreen Braman

24 Hours At My Local Dunkin' Donuts

Home page of The Outline 


Monday, June 18, 2018

“Shape Up or Ship Out”*

Spoken to me, at 11 years of age, I had no idea of its military origin, but understood the terrible meaning. Behave, or end up somewhere else much worse. The second part of the threat solidified that idea. “Or we’ll move away and leave you behind.”

The threat was rooted in real life. The Brooklyn townhouse was sold, a house in the Jersey suburbs purchased, and for some reason unfathomable to me, my very existence seemed offensive.

He had been in the Marines, my stepfather, and the wedding picture with  my mother showed him in full dress blues. He had tattoos on his arms; one that I would learn was his serial number, in case his body was otherwise unidentifiable. His father had abandoned his family when he was very young, and his mother had become a hard disciplinarian in order to keep 6 kids in line. He joined the Marines so young his mother had to sign the papers. So, resorting to military-style ordering of me around probably came naturally. But at age 11, I didn’t know any of this. All I knew was, this man suddenly seemed like he couldn’t stand the sight of me. The man I had so joyously bragged about on the subway, “Now I have a daddy!” (An incident that caused my red-faced aunt to explain to the entire subway car that my father had died when I was only weeks old, and my mother had just remarried. It was the 50s, after all.)

At night, I laid awake, afraid to go to sleep, lest the family sneak out without me in the middle of the night. The idea that I would be separated from my parents, no matter how mad they were at me, filled me with dread. Where would I go? What would I do? Who would take care of me? I prayed my rosary, pleading with the Blessed Mother to help me be good enough to go and live in New Jersey.

Fear of abandonment is a real issue for children who sense any sort of instability in their lives. It leads them to endure abuse, protect addicted parents, and take care of younger siblings. The idea of being torn from the family is that strong.

When my younger sister and I were sent to live with my stepfather’s sister for a few weeks, the terror came with me. I tried to stifle it by telling myself that they would certainly come back for her, if not for me. And if this aunt I hardly knew gave a good report, then they would take me, too.

Years later, I would feel those words echo in my head when reading stories, such as “A Christmas Carol.” I cried at the part where the young Ebenezer was left, alone, at boarding school, holiday after holiday.

I even developed a kind of magical thinking when I had children of my own – that as long as they were with me, or I knew exactly where they were and when they were coming back, they were safe. I tell myself I did a pretty good job hiding that as my kids grew up, they might say different. Today, that anxiety returns if one of my grown up children is more than an hour’s driving distance from me.  Having one live somewhere that requires airfare is really tough, and I am grateful for Face Time.

This personal history has contributed to a high level of distress, empathy and concern over the recent treatment of children at America’s border. I know how it was to live under the threat of being separated from my parents. Having it actually happen in this way is truly child abuse.

We learned after the London Blitz, when children who were evacuated from London alone, were compared to those children who stayed with their parents, the evacuated children had more trauma than those who rushed to air raid shelters with their parents, as bombs rained around them. And there are plenty of other studies that look at separation trauma.

This bargaining ploy instituted by our government, a way to force battling politicians to sit down and fall in line with other controversial policies and projects, uses children as bait. They have committed no crime, yet, they are imprisoned. They are torn from parents, who are charged, not convicted, of a misdemeanor, and given no recourse. Even murderers get bailed out sometimes. Racketeers wear ankle bracelets and stay in their palatial homes. These children have no such ways to mitigate their situations. And I not only fear their lasting trauma, but how they may visit their anger on America when they get older.

I hear them crying. I feel their tears on my face. I know the nightmares, the sleeplessness and the anxiety. I fear that some are so young, they will, in self-defense, forget their parents, or never be able to properly bond with them when they are reunited. The trauma created by this cruel and unusual punishment may last their entire lives. The price of trying to prove a point is too high.

* It is a phrase of World War II in America when armed forces first used this command. It suggested that the sailors, soldiers or marines are warned to adapt according to the rules and regulations or rightfully perform their tasks they are supposed to, if they are to stay in the field otherwise they would be expelled or sent to back zone. Later the phrase was expanded to include all areas in which improvement and performances were demanded.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Summertime and the Laughing is Easy!

And a picture from the recent Laughter Yoga Playshop I just attended. Hobnobbing with my fellow Laughter Wizards!