Stream processing applications such as algorithmic trading, MPEG processing, and web content analysis are ubiquitous and essential to business and entertainment. Language designers have developed numerous domain-specific languages that are both tailored to the needs of their applications, and optimized for performance on their particular target platforms. Unfortunately, the goals of generality and performance are frequently at odds, and prior work on the formal semantics of stream processing languages does not capture the details necessary for reasoning about implementations. This paper presents Brooklet, a core calculus for stream processing that allows us to reason about how to map languages to platforms and how to optimize stream programs. We translate from three representative languages, CQL, StreamIt, and Sawzall, to Brooklet, and show that the translations are correct. We formalize three popular and vital optimizations, data-parallel computation, operator fusion, and operator re-ordering, and show under which conditions they are correct. Language designers can use Brooklet to specify exactly how new features or languages behave. Language implementors can use Brooklet to show exactly under which circumstances new optimizations are correct. In ongoing work, we are developing an intermediate language for streaming that is based on Brooklet. We are implementing our intermediate language on System S, IBM's high-performance streaming middleware.