Time: December 25, 1776
Place: The Delaware River
(A Durham boat, long and flat for river crossings, faces the audience head on. Lashed on board is a half ton "sixpounder" cannon and carriage, the plugged barrel aiming at the audience. Beneath it sits a middle-aged man, the Gunner, cradling another man in his arms. Eighteen-inch wide poling "sweeps" run along either side of the boat. Two men stand at the bow with long river poles in their hands, waiting for the signal to shove off.)

LARBOARD (New England accent): Ain't never seen New Jersey.

STARBOARD (Same): Ain't missed much.... Lord God will you kindly quit pissing on us for just one bloody hour.

Mind ye, if I were Glover and that cold son of a Virginia whore told me to order my men to push his boats cross this river, I'd cough up every last foul, infectious gob whistling in my chest and I'd hock it right in his smug sour face, I would. "Get yourself another regiment to do yer ferrying," I'd tell 'im, "The Marbleheaders are through. You and your paper money."


STARBOARD: Knows we're gonna muster out come the New Year, and that it's our right to do it, too. Wants to bleed every man as much as he can. Rather see you dead than muster out.

LARBOARD: Well, I'd rather ferry than fight.

(The starboard poleman spits over the side.)

STARBOARD: I wager you would.

LARBOARD: There's the torch.

STARBOARD: Ayup. That's it.

(Shouting back at the stern.)
Aft cast off! And... shove!
(The Marbleheaders set the leather padded butts of the river poles to their shoulders and shove, slowly pushing their way back along the sweeps toward the stern offstage. The Gunner takes out a pipe, and stuffs it with some thin, brown, raggy weed from his pocket.
A few moments later the polemen reenter, striding up the sweeps trailing their poles along side. The Gunner carefully removes a smoldering coal from a tin brazier hanging on the cannon carriage. He puts it to his pipe.)

LARBOARD: Whatcha smoking?

GUNNER (raw Irish): Him that hawked it said pure Carolina leaf. I figger it for Lancaster County corn husk, only not so smooth.

STARBOARD (shouting back at the stern offstage): Tom, you letting the river steer tonight? Port the helm, you dumb bastard! And... shove!

(The polemen push offstage again. And a few moments later, in the same rhythm as before, reenter up the sweeps.)

STARBOARD (looking down at the gunner): You got a straw man there?

GUNNER: My spongeman Jonas. He's a wee part cold is all.

STARBOARD: Oh well, we're just burning up to-and-froing in this pissing sleet and wind fighting these fucking ice cakes. And... shove!

(They set their poles and begin the walk astern again.)

LARBOARD: Look at that one alee, big as a prize fucking sow.

(A few moments later they reenter up the sweeps.)

STARBOARD: Mind that ice larboard.

LARBOARD: I see it.

(He uses his pole to push away the invisible ice cake. Then to the Gunner says:)
You shoot that cannon, mistah?

GUNNER: I do. I drug it all the way from Ticonderoga under Colonel Knox. Lost a foot to the snow.

(He lifts a leg to show a stump wrapped in rags.)
Small price.

STARBOARD: And... shove!

GUNNER: (continuing as the polemen walk off): In March we got the guns up Dorchester Heights and so the Brits, no bloody fools, abandoned Boston. But my wife and little girl were gone. Nowhere. Most likely dead. Most likely starved.

(The poleman reenter.)
It's the Britisher Gentlemen's weapon of choice, the blockade.

STARBOARD: There wouldn't a been a blockade if Sam Adams coulda kept his drunken mouth shut.

GUNNER: So you say, as if you knew.

STARBOARD: I know alright, cannon man.

And... shove!

(They push.)
I know this is just one more fool's errand in a fool's war.
(They reenter after the regular interval.)
Ain't you heard what's over there? Hessians. Blood-thirsty savages that King Georgie pays bright yellow gold, not this paper the Virginian keeps given us ain't worth wiping your arse with. Says they're gonna be drunk 'cause it's Christmas--

And... shove!

(They push.)
I want to know where 'tween here and hell they're getting their whiskey 'cause ain't none of us seen none since summer. And that was like to blind ya.
(They go off and shortly reenter.)

GUNNER: Don't trouble yourself about Hessians, friend. They don't know why they're fighting any more than you do. Rather face five of them any day than a single red coat.

STARBOARD: Maybe you oughta fight your red coat, cannon man, and I'll have a whiskey with the Hessian, seeing as your damned right I don't know why I'm fighting. And... shove.

(They push.)
You got a funny way a talking, mister.
(They walk off upstage.
They reenter.)
I'm like to think you're one of those Popish Irishers Boston's starting to crawl with. So how bout it? And... shove!
(They push.)
You a pope lover?

GUNNER: I got love for no man. I do love to kill the King's men though. So I figger I'm fit for this army.

They reenter.)

STARBOARD: Well, mister, I'm ain't so sure I got a beef with the British or ol' George.

LARBOARD: We're drifting starboard. Big ice ahead.

STARBOARD: Ain't blind.

(shouting aft)
Tom, port the bloody helm, will ya? Lean on that tiller!
(back to the gunner)
It's a sin to joy in killing.

GUNNER: Ever done it?

STARBOARD: No, I don't hope to. And I surely don't hope to die, which it looks like we're all doomed to do before the Virginian's through with us. And... shove.

(They push.)

GUNNER: Doom. Doom, is it? I was in the bunker on Breed's hill. Oh and we had 'em, too, looking down on 'em from that sweet high slope. As soon as they were in range we let loose with every damned thing we had, reloaded and let loose again over and over, no rhyme or reason. We laid a nice red carpet down, we did.

(The polemen reenter and walk back up the bow.)

STARBOARD (overlapping): And... shove.

GUNNER: And they fell back... and they regrouped... and they came again, and again we gave 'em everything and laid down another broad stripe of red a little closer. And they fell back... and they regrouped... and sure as fuck they marched again. And then a funny little thing happened: some fool says we're out of powder, and funny enough, it's true.

(The poleman reenter up to the bow.)
And so we watch like dumb monkeys as those bright bastards marched cool steady rhythm right over their own dead and right up that hill to murder us.

STARBOARD: You don't look murdered to me.

GUNNER: I had two feet then.

LARBOARD: You ran then.

GUNNER: Didn't have the wings to fly.

STARBOARD: And... shove.

GUNNER: (to the boy in his lap) Jonas, you weren't there for that, were ya, boy. But you seen some since then, ey?

(The polemen reenter.)

LARBOARD: Met a man from Ohio country says a regiment of riflemen's what we need. Hiding behind trees and bushes. The Redcoats come to formation, just shoot 'em like ducks in a row.

GUNNER: You'll do it once maybe, before the Lobster gets wise. Takes three minutes to load a rifle. You don't just slide the ramrod down like a musket, ye gotta hammer it. If the wind's with ye, and if you're damned good and damned lucky, you can hit a man at a hundred and fifty strides.

STARBOARD: (overlapping) And... shove!

(They push.)

GUNNER: The redcoat behind him can cover that ground in half a minute in full gear. He won't bother to load his musket; he'll just fix bayonet.

(The gunner pauses while the poleman are off-stage aft. When they reenter up the sweeps he resumes.)
Ye can't fix a bayonet to a rifle: barrel ain't round like a musket but squared off funny-like with eight sides and it's too long anyway. Now you tell me, when that British bastard reaches you with a blade on his stick, who's killing who?

STARBOARD: And... shove!

GUNNER: The Virginian's gotta learn his army to fight the lobsters like lobsters. Ye won't lick him running and ye won't lick him hiding. You got to line up against his line, and learn to take your dead like he does.

STARBOARD: The Virginian oughta learn the terms of surrender while he can.

(The poleman walk offstage aft.
They reenter.)
Most the men in these colonies are sons of British born or British born themselves. My own Pa's pa served in the King's navy. It's like fighting your father, like fighting your blood.

And... shove.

(The gunner sits quietly as they pole offstage, and then reenter after a moment.)

GUNNER: Friend, I figger you're most likely right. The Virginian's a son of a Virginian whore, we're a snivelling, rag-tag puppet show of an army, and we're doomed... aye... somewhere cross that river.

STARBOARD (overlapping): And... shove!

GUNNER: And knowing it don't change a damned thing.... Might as well fight. You can fight him now or you can fight him later....

(pausing again for the Poleman to return)
...For all I know or care you might be the King's cousin, you and all your British born brothers.... But you've stood up, see?... And he won't forget. So now you'd do well to not forget neither. You might be his cousin, but you've stood up. So now you're a bloody white nigger like me.

STARBOARD: Hey... HEY!... You mind your mouth, cannon man. I'm the skipper this boat. And I ain't no nigger neither.

GUNNER: Well, right you are, sir, and I'm sure I'm quite sorry. I'll surely mind my mouth in the future.

STARBOARD: And... shove.

(shouting aft)
Three points to starboard, Tom. Straighten her into land.
(They push aft offstage and return after a moment. They stand at the bow pointing their poles ahead to brake the landing. Everyone jolts slightly as the boat hits the shore.)

LARBOARD New Jersey, ho!

(The starboard poleman tosses a length of rope into the audience.)

STARBOARD: Ye want to just sit there, or do ye want yank that line and tie us off?

(The starboard poleman hops ashore.)

STARBOARD (to the larboard man): Gonna go find the colonel.


(Starboard exits through the house.
The larboard poleman hops on shore with second line and ties it off. He climbs back aboard and exits aft.
The Gunner stands and slings the spongeman over his shoulder. Then he clambers as best he can off the boat.)

GUNNER (catching someone's attention in the audience): Hey!... Well met there then. Happy Christmas to ya. I'll need a horse or two to pull this gun off.

(He lays the man on the ground right at the audiences feet.)
This one'll need burying. Make sure his bible's with him when you cover him up....
(looking down)
'Tis a pity, too. What did I tell ya time and time, Jonas Spongeman. Dying's not half as fine as killing the lobster. The one you can only do once, the other as often as Jesus pleases.
(The gunner climbs aboard the boat and begins unlashing the cannon.