Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Poetry At Work Day - 2021

 Today is Poetry At Work Day. Since I've been working from home for months, I have easy access to a lot of my own poetry, some about my work, some about another person's work. This one is a particular favorite and was previously featured on the web page of an NPR show the no longer exists in the particular form it was in 2000. I think it prety much sums up the first work day of a new business in my town.


Image by Please Don't sell My Artwork AS IS from Pixabay

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

It is 2021 – Where has the time gone?

15 Years Ago

Can it be 15 years since I published my collection of blog entries about turning 50? Not a winner of literary awards, but an accurate time capsule of the things that caught my attention.

I look at the photo of me on the back cover, and wonder what that version of me would say if someone had told her how those 15 years would play out, and how fast they would go by? Six new people have been born to my own children, I found the Love of My Life and have been together 10 years, I lost a job and quite a bit of money in a recession, reinvented myself more than once, discovered a new focus on the importance of laughter and humor, and had lots of personal “adventures” in physical health, mental health, home ownership, work life, family life, love life, finances, friendships, and aging. Some of it has been funny — at least in my philosophy of “today’s disaster can be tomorrow’s funny story” — but some of it not funny at all. In fact, these past few years have, at times, really tested my ability to live on “the Smile Side of Life.”

The CoVID19 pandemic has changed life as I knew it, and I am not sure the changes are temporary. I’ve been “working from home” since March 2020, and don’t see an end to that anytime soon. I’m encouraged by the creation of vaccines, but disappointed in the slow distribution, and lack of confidence some people have in its safety. History may define this period of time as “before masks” and “after masks,” a line of demarcation similar to the Industrial Revolution. And — while only 12 days into the New Year of 2021 — the year has already started off badly, and is reserving the right to get even worse. I don’t anticipate that the recent events will ever become tomorrow’s funny story, at least not during my lifetime. As a mother and a grandmother I feel the heavy weight of these past few years and want to spare my children and grandchildren from the consequences. However, at this point, I am feeling a bit powerless.  

2021 ©Noreen Braman

My best recommendation is to remain aware of what is going on in the world and in our country, but to take mental health breaks. Go outside for fresh air, sunshine, and bird song. Make time for laughter by watching a favorite comedian or comedy. Express gratitude to someone – it is one of the strongest ways to enhance your resilience and happiness. Be present in your daily life, using mindfulness to keep you centered and protected from ruminating too much on either the past or the future. I don’t know what the next 15 years will bring, but let’s do our best to live them to the fullest. 



Noreen Braman on 30seconds.com 

Noreen Braman on Medium

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

9-11 The Day The Earth Stood Still (complete text below graphic)

Complete Text of poem, displayed against a sky of dark clouds and smoke, follows the image

The Day the Earth Stood Still

I remember stepping out of the shower
images on the television, a building engulfed in flames.
Thought it was coming attractions of “Collateral Damage”
a movie discussed earlier,
the screams of Katie Couric told me otherwise.
Wrapped in a towel, staring at the images, mind so filled with horror
no discernible words formed.
Dressing robotically,  confused as to what I was seeing
the second plane confirmed the intent.

I remember radio voices,
Scott and Todd, reporting what they were hearing
and seeing – voices choked with shock –
in Dr.Uray’s office – the nurses were weeping and trembling
all with children somewhere in the city.
We listened to Todd, or maybe it was Scott, wail in disbelief as the first tower
fell to earth, Dr. Uray corralled her staff – saying they must do their job in times of war,
her face grave with past remembrance, her mouth set in a line of determination.

I remember calling the office to say I couldn’t possibly come in,
my boss Morgan said many were leaving anyway,
others sat silent in the conference room,
soundless except for whispered descriptions for those without sight,
of the unfolding  results of  incomprehensible acts.
Later would come the stories of Michael Hingson and his guide dog Roselle
– escaping from the dust, debris and chaos, but that day,
we saw nothing but death and destruction.

I remember going to my sister Theresa’s house
she hadn’t heard from her husband,  a supervisor at UPS,
who often subbed for drivers on the World Trade Center Route.
The kids trickled home from school , we tried to shield the youngest, Robert,
Through many many anxious hours before his father walked in the door.

I remember going home to my house,
my daughter Annemarie and my son Roy Michael, on the deck
surrounded by football players and cheerleaders
silent and subdued they clung to each other powerlessly,
all knowing someone with someone in the city.
I worried about my oldest, Rosemarie, on campus at Montclair University,
no phone calls would connect.
The greatest fear of a mother is to be separated from her children in a calamity or disaster.
Without her home where I could see, her, touch her – unbearable,  on a day where all was unbearable.

I remember from a high point in Monroe,
a place now covered with a gated community,  
we saw the smoke pluming miles into the sky
– a sky devoid of air traffic of any kind – creating a deafening silence that seemed to
halt the Earth in its rotation, hold it motionless in orbit,  rendering us unable to draw a breath.

I remember night fell, but it was only darkness; sleep wrenched from it,
 leaving only nightmares behind.

© 2011 Noreen Braman


Friday, August 14, 2020

A Reflection As the Summer of Pandemic Moves On


Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I am old enough to remember too many times our nation has faced a time of crisis. Born at a time when polio made people stay home, wear masks, and shelter their children, I was a beneficiary of the polio vaccine, and only understood the terror it caused through the stories of my mother and grandmother.

I was only in second grade when JFK was assassinated, yet it was a crisis that left a deep mark on me. I was sure that the nuclear bombs were coming at any minute, and my fears were compounded by the fact it was the first time I had seen adults cry.

I was young and confused during the times of civil rights and war protests including the violence played on the nightly news. I could not understand why some people were being treated differently than others, and I did not understand why war existed at all. The killings of Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert Kennedy brought back to me the fear of a world spinning out of control.

I experienced 9-11 as a deep and personal horror - and like the assassination of JFK, think of it of a time from which we were all changed permanently.

And that is how I feel during summer 2020. I've grown from a baby to a grandmother, and I still do not understand how that no solutions have been reached.

We are dealing with a dangerous national health emergency coupled with the emotional and societal upheaval that is taking place as we face up to the painful institutionalized racism that is attached to very roots of the United States.

We are in a time of permanent change, at a crossroad where the direction we take as a country will determine the world our children and grandchildren inherit from us.

Each one of us has a responsibility to do what we can to help others heal, whether victims of COVID19 (and the inequality of healthcare that has been exposed by this pandemic) or victims of racism. I firmly believe that part of that responsibility is working for the common good, whether it is by wearing a mask in the grocery store, or standing up for equality.

For me, it means listening. Listening to the voices who are endeavoring to stop the deaths from both of the deadly infections at the forefront this summer - coronavirus and racism.
And I will continue to share my message of well-being, and yes, even laughter, because laughter is a survival skill that has been with humanity since long before language existed. Dr. Madan Kataria, the founder of Laughter Yoga, has, from the beginning, encouraged the idea of laughter for world peace. And I will continue to share it with you, not because of jokes or comedy, but for social bonding and well-being.

I have always felt that laughter in the face of reality is probably the finest sound there is and will last until the day when the game is called on account of darkness. In this world, a good time to laugh is any time you can. — Linda Ellerbee

I have not seen anyone dying of laughter, but I know millions who are dying because they are not laughing. – Dr. Madan Kataria

I never would have made it if I could not have laughed. It lifted me momentarily out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it livable. — Viktor Frankl

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Thinking of My High School Band Director on His Birthday

Born on the 4th of July, Mario DeCarolis would have been 95 years old today. He would be amazed to know his name and legacy live on in the students he mentored and taught, down to music students some of his students would teach, or those who still perform for fun or professionally. For me, I spent some time satisfying my desire to sing with years of community theater with my children, who all spent years celebrating music through dance. I now watch my grandchildren as their own interests develop, watching to see who has inherited a musical or performance gene.

As some of "Chic's" students remembered his birthday online, I pulled this story from my book. After his death, some of us got together and performed a memorial concert to start a scholarship fund in his name. I included this story in the program at that time, but just wanted to share it again, in his memory.

By Noreen Braman

The old saying goes that if you save things long enough, sooner or later, they come back in style. I was reminded of this when my daughter showed me the hot new styles featured in her trendy magazine. There were the polyester shirts, hip hugger pants and platform shoes of the seventies. For a minute I was taken back to my teenage years. Back to the ‘70s when bell-bottoms couldn't be wide enough, hair couldn't be long enough, and everyone was rocking to the sounds of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman.

The dance band was called The Indigos and it had been filling the high school band room for years with the sound of swing. It may have been too much sound for a bunch of high school kids, but we played anyway. And just when we were feeling like we had given Mood Indigo the definitive treatment, our director, Mario DeCarolis, would take out his old, shiny saxophone and wail. It was hard to not just stop playing and listen to him. He really knew those songs and played them with the feeling of a person who had lived through it.

Sooner or later it was my turn to climb out from under the baritone saxophone and step up to the microphone. The guys didn't like this part, they wanted to cut loose with In the Mood, or String of Pearls, and there I was ready to pour my 16-year-old heart into Sentimental Journey, or You Made Me Love You.

I tried not to antagonize the guys; after all, it didn't take much to drown me out. Worse than hitting a wrong note or forgetting the lyrics was knowing that all the audience got out of my performance was a look at a girl moving her lips to some old swing song. Sometimes they weren't shy about letting me know.

"Can't hear you!" somebody would shout. Turning up my amplifier usually produced some lovely feedback, and due to school budget cuts, I was sharing the amp with the electric guitar player who didn't mind being turned up at all. The result was a combination of Rosemary Clooney and Jimi Hendrix.

In addition to our unique sound, we were an interesting sight. Our white, wrap-around music stands were emblazoned with the band's logo, our instruments ranging from the brand new to battered school-owned relics. We learned the choreography, standing up, swaying and swinging our instruments. Well, they stood up. I never could lift that baritone off its stand.

Our dress code required that the guys wear jackets and ties with their bell-bottom pants. Sometimes the combination of plaid jackets, striped ties and fluorescent miniskirts was hard on the eyes. Other times it was the guitar player's long hair that drew stares. It appeared as if there had been a mix-up in the transporter room and a bunch of ‘70s hippies had been beamed down into a 1940s canteen. In fact, a similar incident actually happened on Star Trek and Leonard Nimoy's nephew did go to our school …

Not too long ago I heard some familiar music emanating from my daughter's room. It only took a few notes to tell me that she was playing In the Mood. In mid-song the tune changed to Pennsylvania 6-5000, then Little Brown Jug. What my daughter was playing was a cut from a CD by a group calling itself Jive Bunny and the MasterMixers.

It was a little disconcerting for my daughter to discover that her new hit record contained music not only remembered by her mother, but her grandmother also! Swing music really bounced back in a big way when The Brian Setzer Orchestra hit the charts with Jump Jive An’ Wail, and the tune was featured on a television commercial.

It was not a surprise for this graduate of the class of ‘73. After all, you keep things long enough, they come back. So I guess I’ll hang on to that last pair of bell-bottoms, my high school band jacket, some peace sign jewelry and my yearbook with Richard Nixon's picture on the inside cover. I'll dig out the old Blood, Sweat and Tears album and tuck it in the box alongside ones by Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington

Then to complete this odd juxtaposition of eras, I'll throw in some photographs featuring the concert that Stan Kenton and his band played at my school. If you look real close, you can see that they are wearing bell-bottoms, too.

©Noreen Braman From “Treading Water”  
Coming soon: a new edition of “Treading Water” with new essays, in honor of  2020 – The Year of Seeing Clearly. (A title selected way back in January – before 2020 revealed itself as The Never-Ending Year When Nothing is Clear)

The "I Love My Clarinet" photo

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Independence Day 2020

Even better, may we mend our flaws ourselves. ©2020 Noreen Braman
Just re-read Fredrick Douglass' speech about the Fourth of July, written when the country was a mere 76 years old. 

He describes what the celebration of American Independence "meant" to slaves, especially in light of the Fugitive Slave laws. Much of what he talks about can still be heard echoing today in actions taken after emancipation to deliberately deprive African Americans of jobs, education, housing —Jim Crow — denial of GI benefits, redlining of neighborhoods ... all of which contributed to what is now called white privilege

Most middle class white people would say they have not been actively complicit in this, (although I can remember feuding neighbors declaring revenge on each other by threatening to sell their home to a black family) however, that does not mean we were not the beneficiaries of the results. 

The ongoing harm is not because of some one-time, "ancient history," that no longer affects current society, but has been reinforced over and over in attitude and policy to the present day.

We forget that George Wallace declared "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" not 150 years ago, but in the 70s — with lots of people still alive who listened and believed him. And carry his divisive racism in their hearts.

But, one must ask, "Who benefits by keeping American citizens divided? Who has continued to earn, succeed and increase their wealth no matter what is happening in American society?" The more "us vs. them" talk I hear, the more I realize how threatened this very small group of rich and powerful people must feel — to the point that they equate their own survival to the survival of the United States.

Therefore they push the idea that one group must be victorious over another group — inflaming fear of "the other." This is very evident by the need to categorize people into groups by race, political party, religion, and by using pejorative names and descriptions. I am equally horrified to see violence and destruction, as well as hear some declare "time for another Civil War." Look around the world and see what civil wars are doing. Count how many years countries have been torn apart, how many millions of people displaced. 

The founders of the US were not gods, but imperfect humans, who, at times, acted in their own interests. Yet, they ultimately risked death by committing treason against England to form a new nation. They envisioned their new form of government would pass power peacefully, provide citizens with a system of legal redress, a process to introduce or change laws, and the right to hold their government accountable to the people. It wasn't perfect, in fact, despite writing of "inalienable rights" we have yet to assure those rights on an equal basis.

With our own Civil War as a painful reminder of how quickly a country can splinter and how long the damage remains in a torn nation's bloodstream, we, all of us, have a duty to resist the voices that seek to keep us divided: but rather find the ways to take the necessary steps to heal, improve, and unite. 

To do this, it is our duty as a nation to constantly, and honestly, review our historical narrative (including painful issues), redefine our perception of "being American," work together for the greater good, and constantly ask ourselves if the United States is truly living up to the vision and ideals it was founded on.

"A house divided against itself, cannot stand." 
 — Abraham Lincoln (paraphrasing Jesus as mentioned in the Gospels and referred to by many subsequent writers)

Divide et impera”  (Divide and Conquer)
— attributed to Julius Caesar

Monday, June 8, 2020

Critical Thinking: Not Illegal Yet

©2020 Noreen Braman

In every election, (not just for President, but down to the mayor of my town) I try to critically think beyond just the candidate, but also to what they will bring to the table. For President in particular:

  • Who will put qualified, knowledgeable and experienced people in cabinet, agency, and advisor positions who will work toward goals that benefit all Americans? 
  • Who will enact policies and procedures that are important to me today and my grandchildren tomorrow? (Which I understand may lead to "compromise" or "interim" solutions that find common ground between diametrically opposed views of topics too important to ignore)
  • Who will best follow all the precepts of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, including the need and obligation to amend?
  • Who will work with other world leaders on problems that transcend borders, such as the environment, human rights? 
  • Who will understand better the difference between public service and self service? 

I agree that no one candidate will be "perfect." I've worked with perfectionists, and sometimes have been a perfectionist myself. It is a path that leads eventually to paralysis of thought and actions. In the case of elections it leads to huge swaths of people not voting. And that perpetuates the disconnect between the small group of elected officials and the huge, diverse population they are supposed to represent. 

Set aside rhetoric. Stop seeking that slogan or meme that "sounds right." Open yourself to possible changes of mind, and changes of heart.

Your life depends on it.