Jul 162020

A play about the words and deeds of Revolutionary Hero Thomas Paine.


Text File
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"...our honored flag... asks no monarch
           to support her stars...."

    --- Philip Freneau, 'On Mr. Paine's Rights of Man'




In protestation of his time
He found the human mind divine,
Found the talk that made it up,
Spoke aloud, and would not jump.
"Clear words beget clear heads."
Clarity in life, clarity in death
Is the best man has to hope or dread.
In protestation of his time
Man completes the balance of his rhyme.

To rip at the savage face
To tear out the tyrant's heart
Was his only mellow wish, when once
He tottered at his infant start.
"Poetry's the soul in the hole
Of all our deluded union."
Never again to read in dread
What any briary tongue
Or lashed heart had said.

A pauper's son, a poor man's daughter
Live their fused lives upon the waters,
Bless the vision that lifts them in a trance
Beyond their haunted circumstance.
A steady voice, a glance like Fate's,
"All the million reductive deaths
Of a single soul in resistence
Find their measure, and their truth in Time
In the balance of a rhyme

Not otherwise."



[PAINE spins a globe outside of FRANKLIN's London office.
Books are scattered all over the floor.]

Spin, spin!
Iron ring I am whirled within!
Arbitrary midget measure of my unconfining infinite!
A span of bands all flicked from flat
to this uniform globedness to ring my aching head
whose every thought is centered
on the latitudes you winningly bend.
Dear iron thing pinged from iron ground, rent
from flatness to the shape of Earth one man's brain intends,
you laurel my lauded humanity when
to my invented center and gravity you tend.
Spin, spin!
Those laws of nature that great minds reveal
may in yet greater imaginations strip repealed.
Only my blue eye (and my diamond eye within)
give credence to the luminous architecture you pretend,
flowing shined lines
through space and time
to end where they begin.
Chaplet-circlet of all the circumnavigated seas,
it is in my wide eye you thrive
and give me the image
my imagination divines,
plushly hover to deliver there, in picked increments
the measure that I had made back to me again.
Ah ha!
If cold-hearted Columbus knew you
through and through
I doubt that I'd be splayed here to beg
(an impertinent impatient menace to my own peace)
old Benny Franklin for his lettered word
to push and passport myself through one half of you
from the old drab world toiling here
to the Edenic new whom
that Italian's ballet-tighted stride
had mistakenly discovered. Meritorious maritime error!

[Inside FRANKLIN's office.]

There's too much talk of America for my comfort.

And not enough action for my satisfaction.

You know full well, Dr. Franklin, that your American
interests are represented in Parliament by your worrying
English brothers.

Yes. They worry our poor stag of freedom
to the poorhouse by their taxes.

Well, there's not exactly an exactness
in the extraction of your tithes, it is true,
but there is an approximate proxy of your solemn wants
figured in Parliament as near as our charter may permit.
Realistically, Benjamin, I don't see that changing any time soon.
This policy of ours of virtual representation serves
all our colonies around the mounted globe. Soon
the British flag-pole shall be her axis;
what you ask for is uneven, unfair,
and would knock our other more peaceful provinces
to rash action by its example.

But we are Englishmen like yourselves, and not
a conquered land. Surely that difference penetrates.
Our skins are as white as the flag's X-ing stripes.
We're blood and blood through and through.

Our wisest heads here at home have endorsed
the virtual representaion policy. And besides,
you are free enough in America.
What's the point of making trouble?

What's the point of being free?
We are virtually represented, you say.
And you say well. Would the King be as pleased
with us for nearly paying our taxes
and almost obeying his laws?

I have small doubt that it would be considered
a most treasonous rebellion.

A king is under an obligation to those
he proposes to rule, no less than those ruled
are obliged to him and to observe the laws
they make in common. You see my point.

And I shall take my leave. Proposes to rule?
He is our donned soveraign. These words of yours
deliver a treasonous treatise. And I, for one,
would not have my trunk separated from this crown I wear.

I spoke only, friend Terrence, as is my scientific habit:
in hyperbolic hypothesis alone. A junture of conjectures
conducted within the safe parenthesis apparatus
of our dear friendship, Terrence. I hope you do not
take me too amiss, sir, or ferry it too far astray
and deliver my words' import into the hellish harbor
of another's ears, who may be less disposed
to levy my enthusiam with his love.

Trust my silence, and my self-interest.
Goodnight, friend.

As benevolent friends let us always part
until these tight-stretched times tear us apart.

[MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT exits by far door.]

Ah, Chris, expecting old India and getting America,
were you pissed at the switch
the whirling world had slipped you?
Ah, Chris, Chris, you knew, you knew, didn't you
that the whole world is in the mind
and no place other;
and of the world, and of that mind
I am the lonely citizen.

FRANKLIN  [Entering.]
A jake jenny will spin as pretty, son,
and you might even do
some more useful woolgathering then.

Turn a profit or turn the world:
which majestic enterprise
do you choose to pursue?

Few revolutions ever rotate to a profit.
Those that do most often mis-aim their circles
and round on nothing worthy, or had too low
and ungolden a stock to start with, sir.

Human happiness is ever the right and highest aim;
and doesn't that slap of happiness
demand an infinity of wish lived the minute
we experience the weird, willed, insistant rush of it
wired alive from the prison of skin?

FRANKLIN  [Laughs.]
The blank page in the annihilating brain?
Maybe. Sir, I don't believe we've had a proper introduction.

Propriety be damned! Perdition it!
Have all hell environ its vetted
shalls and shall-nots in walls of fire.
Propriety, manners, graces sociale, the plume
of grooming, and the pander of please-easements:
junk all to a rump-superstition
trying to tell me by poxed signs how to relate
in the uncreated minute
I share with my glorying fellow-man.

But what ever should I call you, sir? Mr. Blank?

If I really gave a damn about that...

Even my pussycat purrs to his syllable. Right Rog?
Unnamed is nihilism, for we must name to know.

Well, sir, Sir won't do for a start.
Neither Lord, nor Your Majesty, nor You Jackass,
which my ex was so pricker-burr fond of.
All too stratospheric for my loving muddiness;
and yet, to say honestly, not high enough
for my fired-high Babylon-in-the-sky desire, either, sir.
Sire... has a ring to it....

But... I sense a hesitation in this gestation.
Beasts and kings both sire offspring; it seems
a wide enough label by all accounts.

Wide indeed. But inaccurate when applied to my amours;
all have ended without such tissuey issue, you see.

Perhaps I'll call you rootabaga. And perhaps,
like a ruminative root,
you could cull your tongue a minute
and raise a squalling brood
by its intermediate burial.

Point taken. I'll laugh aghast at myself
and flap about gashed to uselessness
if you keep me in your wit's crossfire longer.

Point taken. I guess I must wait contented
in the bathing aftermath of your compliment
for you to spit out your alias.

Honest Tom Paine, you may name me,
if you wish to follow my mother's custom
who had it, as she puts it, from my dire father.


A grim man; internment improved him
(his only writerly quality, now that I think of it).
Prisons and genius are linked by locks
stronger and stranger than any heaven's Destiny.
And, well, he did save me from the Navy;
that blasted ship went all hands down and had to crawl
on their water-buried fingers to hell.

Pray tell.
And are you yourself a writer, sir, uhm, Tom?

Given to scribbling. Blood and ink
charactering forth the teeming memes
of this spade's-worth of pink brain, and all that.

Well. This has been most amusing, but I'm afraid....

PAINE  [Looking around impaitiently.]
Now where in bloody beavered double hell
is that fat bastard Franklin? He's kept me
waiting here in his rump room hours now,
all afternoon the sun has blazed through those wavy panes,
and there's not a tract in his pick
I haven't raped over my spry eyes
a million times before, an annoying hoard
of dead words clapped between these reamed boards.
I myself am near as dusty, and near as dead.

Well then, Tom, let me be an Adam to your ignorance
here in my habitable Eden, and name myself:
Dr. Benjamin Franklin, at your service.

Blimy. I never met
an ingenious fellow as fat as you;
usually, they're skinny as cadavers
and rude to boot.

You seem to fit like a snug glow into your own
indandescent description, like a wick
nipped into its tallow, Tom. As for me,
I've decided my girth should mirror, not mask
the chubby depths of my inner resources.

A plummet-line down the bellybutton to the soul...

And there you've got my spiritual and intellectual measure.

A veritable globe unto yourself, eh?

The ladies like a fellow of some substance.

PAINE  [Laughs.]
Well now you've turned the coinage upon its maker
and whacked the spitting image home with a vengeance;
my trim economy is disastered by your brutal wit.
Still, I've never met an opponent I haven't bested yet.

FRANKLIN  [Pouring.]
Scotch and soda?


Health, Peace, and Fraternity.

To the survival of the ideal in the real.

An interesting toast.

I always toast that. Nothing else exists
worth getting drunk about.

A champagne extreme, it seems to me.

Life's lace and ashes, Doctor, roses and dung.
I like what I toast better than that flat
Quaker oat bread I was raised up on.

We're both Quakers, then.

Civility, insistent peace (but not a any price),
a solemn or wondering longing for God, yes,
by those totem tenets shall I keep,
and expurgate the speakers from my picked text;
winos, mostly, more interested in ass-sniffing
civil authority than in living up
to the bold moral obligation to treat
each reaching individual as your soulful equal.
Such cowed cows!

An upright stance before both man and God;
and no superstition warps the stature of your bones.
Highly commendable in a man sent
to myself for commendation's stamp.

I cannot take a compliment while I seek a favor.
I'll take this as a taste of your liquorish taint.

Squarely said. Do you have an ample sample
of your writing? A quillful will do withal.

A sample pamphlet's on the table. Written on behalf
of the King's excise men, of which I was one
haranguing his Highness for a raise.

PAINE  [As  FRANKLIN reads.]
Maybe here in England we're a little bit clearer
who have less spavined freedom from the powdered Parliament
than our water-separated neighbors, and so I'll not relent
from tugging you a bit nearer health by my stitches,
which these bitching words you pull at
by your nickering lip in fastidious judgement, are.
America's a right yummy ripe prize
the mincing king in his house-robe has sworn to squeeze---
scouting the palace for yesterday's newspaper,
   his shoes a hurry
of velvet on velvet while his ministers mangle
the masterful quadrangle of his royal foreign policy;
But when he with his fey ringed hand, almost a glove
of golden mail it is so richly ringed, enrings to wring you
with every sort of constricting blockade and strangling tax
don't say that I didn't warn of choking, even until
I myself did croak! And then your theoretical, heretical,
unEuropean Britishness shan't stay his envious, pretty mitts
but more merely spike the dregs with a tough clump pulp,
soon enough swallowed as a single undissolved sweet
in his gargantuan majesty's gargantuan gullet.
You'll rebel, we see that plain and clear.
Now, you folks won't say as darn much, that's clear too.
But when the itching squeeze arrives,
most intelligent types on this pitted isle surmise
(and not without some sour pips of bitterness)
that the reaching King will stretch and find
an aching fist of hawthorn thorns adorning
his shilling-supple grip, and not a lazy goose
or pioneer-reared American turkey on the table
hankering to honk:
"Where'd ye like yer golden eggies, Majesty?"
nor any docile dove cooing full eagerly
and baring a plucked pink breast to put
a bit of neat meat on his heavily buttered table.

An awful willful quillful.

For a mind to hear its thoughts,
               they must be said:
and no one's howled it loud enough before:
my human loves move and near compel me
to root and roar in ramping brashness for your cause,
which, even if you don't see what that is as yet,
yet still it must be shouted about, and louder shouted:
for America, for Progress, for Humanity and me:
listen, my bespectacled aquaintence: INDEPENDENCY!

FRANKLIN  [Shaking paper.]
Quite a paean to procure a pittance, Paine.
A love-libretto to Liberty that might inspire a riot.

The drug of love never slavvered me to much of a lather---
but Liberty!--- Well, I'm her most adoring whore.

I'll write out a note. Take ship with this
and find a printer's apprenticeship
at harbor for you in my beloved, brotherly
big-time backwater, Philosophical Philadephia.
Here's my impress. Whomever you deliver it to
will know its trueness in that colonial city.
Come. Take it.


[PAINE exits. Outside office door.]

No reason for me to keep middle-aging in England;
to woodlands wild I hie,
and to pastures new retire my ire!

[PAINE begins to whistle, then sings.]

    Cap'n William Death was of bitter worth
    And he sailed aboard the Terrible;
    A crow their flapping emblem was
    And flamed down to the bitter seas.
    For defeat came blowing in French Vengee's sail
    Under clouds confused as a bruise:
    O the dead men's storm-breath was terrible
    Under clouds confused as a bruise.

    O Cap'n Death was of bitter worth
    For when the weather and cannons were wroth
    He sent his unpaid men ten fathoms down
    To collect their coral crowns.
    Beside their chattering skeletons goes,
    Serene as if in the sky,
    The burning bodkin of Ol' John Crow
    Who fluttered high but now's below.

    Black brother Crow's flap warns us all:
    For as ye rise, so must ye fall.
    Dead men's storm-breath blows foul and used
    Under clouds confused as a bruise.

Now to America I wing,
Of America I must sing.



[PAINE enters with a fresh copy of the Pennsylvania Gazette.]

All language takes some stain of ill or good
from the character of the man that yaps it.
In my own zone of rights I write and knight reality,
and kneel to no mental soveriegn but the muse imagination
I rum-reelingly pursue. Come, blood-potent rum,
and serve the prophetic office of a tired Tiresian tit,
reveal to me in this minute's less some more consuming All.
Come! attendant angel or ministering harlequin
to the splay water-palace of my mighty-tided heart!
Overwhelming Fate's one gospel of 'Obey,' spill to my glum gullet
and trash the fabulous furies' fang-gaped destruction, come
and in my pleasant dreaming take up a torching seat,
for you in molding fire all shall choir 'I am free!'
and I shall spatter out the language to make that freedom ring.
....Ah! Argh-oh how I am spun to dumbness
in this walling world that prisions me!
Here evil ministers jangle unreachable keys of speech,
deny me paper and shout down my rising voice;
through the dawn-dashed bars they hack at my words
and unstitch my life-lexicon to mere mumbles.
Witness well their degredation of-- of themselves!
They steal my speech and claim my saying as their own,
hollowing out its virture by their rotten lives.
How shall my hard-held honor this dishonor sustain?
How renounce this attack on the very sound
of myself, the very soul of my talking enterprise?
Prised apart and pitted empty, my words are spit-spattered
away from their durance-resistant usefulness
and let to loll unacknowledge in the gutter
of common discourse. My words! A told tool
I would not trade away for the nothings
so plangently proffered me by nothings.
I walk and talk these Philadelphia Gazette steps,
round-robining all day all the old news-of-the-day
with these current estimables, a smashing
cash crop of the red-nosed best of America,
merchants and others with enough free time
to pay their way to freethinking like me!
Here's the meritocracy, paying enough
to buy the public opinion away from those
who tax it royally to their blue-blooded side.
Pennies well spent! Their wary copper
buys golden souls that would offer themselves for lead---
and some day shall--- some day soon, too soon,
mark my history-honest words. I'll tell a tale  [Shakes paper.]
will kill some men.... Damn, the things I say!
Half the time I don't know why I say 'em;
half the time they're nothing but all that I've got.
What will my penny-a-day words pay me?
Let my ripping talk unstitch this trans-oceanic union;
it is a challenge to roll a world on one's tongue, non?
My loves have disappointed, and my eyes all are maimed
to see that kniving inhumanity until they are too much cut
to look a moment longer dry, and must perforce
weep out a ruin of pure blood on the blood they see.
I feel all a bear, and would tear a thing apart.
Here's the coffehouse where all the future stife and rule
of our not-yet-nation is avidly debated, and yet
through some causeless niceness is left to languish unpursued.
The noble word finds not it noble counterpart
in honorable action, and all lies undone;
we speak and spat of self-governance, who have none.


Come, old tongue, let's talk a new union
into its existence by the brashness of our wish.

Paine! Paine!

In the ass. In the ass. I know, I know.

Oh, really now Thomas, I was just wondering
how you were getting along here in the city
of brotherly love. Not quite the debate pit
you're used to.

Much more so actually. Many fine talks indeed.
But if you mean, by how I am, how goes the cause
of insect-winged locust Liberty (how many years
since Athens first heard the wings!) well then, I must say
the locust is bursting through the ground in Concord
and Lexington; just yesterday as a matter of fact.

What in heaven's name do you mean, man?

Read it in the Gazette, and you'll see soon enough.

Have some shocks in store for us?

Just honesty, Franklin. A common enough trait.

If you say so. I'm on my way to our coffeehouse.

Ah, yes, where all you continentals discuss everything.
I think I'll join you.

Here we are.

In, in! What're you waiting for?

Anxious as a slaver with his unsold load of darkies!
After you.



[PAINE and FRANKLIN enter the coffeehouse.]

ALL  [Variously.]
Benjamin! Franklin!

Popular as ever, aren't you Thomas.

Gentlemen! The continent has shouted out loud
for Liberty, and strikes at the chains that bear away
our taxes and our freedoms. And the first heart-blow
has landed in Massachussetts!

[There is a general outcry at this news.]

The man's a tear-sheet specialist.

There's a lady or two who might attest to it.

His news is no news.

Which then must be good news too.

Would you trade wits with me?

I'd not have your wits with a pound of gold.

And if you had 10,000 pounds you could not buy one of them.

No, for there's not one of them to be found.

Of all the noise and bother, man, spit it out!
What've you got under your tri-corner?

Hold your horrors, and your tipsy cups contain
in steady hands while I my steady tale relate.
Listen to me, breathe all silent, and follow
on subtle steeds of imagination while I ride
to a distant dark that's yet too near our hearts.
No tall tale do I trip in here to you to tell,
all grenadier and gnash, no not so tall as they are,
nor as viper sharp as a Redcoat snaps, all brass
and splash and flash, but merely a minor story simply told
in amiable note, of small acts and large hearts
where a simple standing steady has effected
what all the bravado of words never could.
Men of the hour? No, not so grand as that,
but of the minute? Yes, they'll
          stretch to that extent
and be remembered as they have named themselves:
Minute Men.

Isn't that the Massachusetts militia?
Those old groaning fellas that put
their earlier steel to riotous trial
against raping Indian raids and those
French incursions of years ago?

Yes. And they've kept up their drumbeat,
the ancients,-- and the youngbloods beside 'em,--
putting away powder and blasting balls against the day.
They weekly drill their assembly on the town green
"at a minute's notice," as they so baldly claim.

And the Sons of Liberty all call from there,
their terrorist pranks and wild high times
making the ruinous incursion of the Brits
a laughing matter as much as anything else.

I swallowed all my light laughter the last time
they rifled through my havoced house in Boston,
and now grind all my guffaws to grist.

While we all dreamed headlong on our pillows
in pleasant Philadelphia yestereve, and of shooting
heard only the hooting of the rustled town owl
or the low growling of a dropped locked-box
knocking the cobbles, men awake in Lexington
were laying about their harrassed ears with fast hands
to stopper-up the deadly bombast of British lead.
But wait! I do not want to jump the story,
confusing conclusion and lead, spiking titles
with the weedy inference of an afterword,
but shall lay instead this narration in one row only
that corn shall grow by corn in serried succession
and we all reap its meaning at once.
Well you know that Concord is the provisioning-house
of precious gunpowder and hard-caught musketballs
for our fierce Northern friends in liberty
who look to disengage the English Gage
from our Boston's harbor where he's sunk at anchor,
bottoming out our hopes of independency.
Well, that Gage last night had aweighed anchor
and shoved his dumb humpers into longman rowboats
to swish the blue inch on our maps
from Boston proper to the peaceful Back Bay swamps
(see page two of your Pennsylvania Gazettes, gent'men),...

[The assembled company all snap thier papers open to page two.]

...his gross ranks breathing heavy in their bishops' hats
and tack pants, faces moony-garish and powdered,
squeezed cheeks carmined to set a raucauous red
to the parade red of their dandy red coats,
moved in uneasy union against the giving mush of marsh,
sucking away the calm silence of the night
with each bootblack boot's approaching gasp.
Who among them, in their defensive tenseness,
hunched into the long round hour before dawn,
regretted their intention to leave defenseless
their outback colonial charges by destruction
of Concord's hidden charges? Who among them knew
that in quiet Lexington lay a fuse to ignite the night
and out-firework all the stars that shined on them?

The garrison's active; this is a solemn business now.

They approached the town with the unwiped mud
still clinging guilty on their soles. And then,
on the minute, and at the trial telling of a bell
a racing Paul Revere, pacing Prescott and daring Dawes
set clanging at the redcoats' coming on,
some few men assembled on the town green
exchanging nervous grins and greetings
cheated of their normal charm and pleasure.
And as those few stood shouldering difficult guns
a reasserted quiet fell from an empty sky
from which, it seemed, God's face had turned aside.
And then those brave few heard a heartless haloo
ranting anarchic through the rumoring wood
and the soul of each man-at-ease went bell-wild,
ringing each steady steeple to splinters, or nearly,
and yet each man still stood his minute stilly
to look on coming ruin with the same eyes they used for love.
Useless monks spend their closeted lives in sackcloth
righting their minds for the divine, but those 80-odd
knew more of all of God, and what God might
helpfully trumpet down to our skunking circumstance
than a million such widowers of miracle,
prayering self-abasers crooning to high heaven
for just one more fix of some diviner substance.
White heaven was in their mustered hearts, which red-eyed
Redcoats marched from the scarlet sea to bleed
into a single lake of blood.
These Minute Men, assembled mixed upon the green
whereby a red flood of near-enemy troops
must pass and parade, mustered softly in quiet pre-dawn,
waiting for the landscape to rouge aroused
           with their future. All alert,
and steady-still as ever their starting hearts
might make them, they heard the trooping song:
     Sam Adams and damn'd Hancock
     We'll take the bunch and clap the lock!
     And watch our leaderless colonials scurry
     Back to our royal order-- in a hurry!
     Every Englishman cry ho! Ho!
     We are the law where'er we go!
     No more talk of rights and shit
     When Sam Adams and damn'd Hancock are in the pit!

How was the conduct of the troops? Did they
brandish anger, or seek simply to keep the peace?
How lawful was their goal?

Tell us a story we can live within. My taste
is not for such a bloody tartness.

I'll sharpen your ardors to the spur
with the whetstone of my story, and nag to neighing
our native horse's sleepsome flanks until they hang
in bloody flags of victory!

Yet, how was the conduct of the troops?

PAINE  [Pointedly ignoring  DICKENSON.]
Maximum courage mustered then!
Eyes straight, backs clicked, men sixteen to sixty
who knew that their stiffness here would put
a backbone in their new-made American nation
stood steady and at ready when those Redcoats
bled into their sight. Old Jonas Parker,
spavined captain of the ticking Minutes
kept his roll-call of boys at regiment-ready
against the bright influx of Major Pitcairn and his men,
neither giving offense, nor yet bending his neck
to the black boot of wrong law; steady
for themselves more than against the troops.
"Ye devils! Ye rebels! Lay down your dour arms
and disperse! Space to your waste acres!
This is Britain, and I am Britain's hand,
you the smacked rump of incivility," cried Pitcairn,
and Lexington's men, outnumbered two or three to one,
did not pretend to obey his voice, but waited
with civil incivility in their paitient ranks
until they heard good old Jonas Parker call "Dis-
missed!" and, patting each shoulder as he spoke,
bade his men each one to "Go on home, son,"
with a "We've taken our stand for today, friend,"
or "no God's peace'll we break this day,
nor yet obey the slimy blackguard limping by."
Tis a point easily missed, but vital:
no deadly offense was taken, nor none given
as our men walked slowly toward their homes and beds
or out to reap private fields, arms shouldered
and not thrown down, a rifle each by their ears,
and no offence given, but all a slow obeyance
of their own chosen man, Old Jonas, and none other.
And then it came! The glory of this story!
An empty shot snapped apart the infant dawn.
Calamity! Heart-wrench! Confusion! Death's
hovering covenant that seals all pasts and
pollutes all futures with its bloody baptismal
made his harrowing entrance upon the scene of retreat
and came raining vengeful down on that innocent crowd;
none knew the source of that discordant noise,
all were witness to the shrapnel result of it.
Bodies crowned the common ground; gaped corpses,
chipped limbs, shouts, distortions imposed by force,
wild, angry, bitten faces, lightning arms,
trigger clicks, astonished blasts, after-effects
of numbing thunder, displacement of peace, fists
ramming renewed shot into a musket there, beside
a dead friend's final look or dying stranger's howl,
the British line all a pall of gunsmoke
as if in angel's wings they were enshrouded.
A deadly start has this adventure of the heart.
Let none shrink from it! Our men fell there
blanketed by defeat, and swaled to their final home.

[Various expostulations.]

Do my ears hear truth, and that
from the long-faced scoundel Paine?

My tongue does bear a true and fruitful report.

Fruitful is it? And bloody hell shall be
our orchard. Your words grow from a cannon-mouth.

Yes. We shall make a strange fruit a hanging
from a gallows-tree.

PAINE  [Throwing his gazette.]
You can read about our eventual victory that day
on the overleaf.


The British marched on to Concord, destroyed
some spoil of goods, a trifle of shovels, and some other
warlike items, and were greeted shortly after
by some hundreds of our "armed farmers."

And they fled Concord?

And with a heavy cost. Two-hundred sixty-three
British were picked off by our harrassing fire
between wronged Concord and their Boston barracks.

And how many lost we?

JEFFERSON  [Reading.]

It's a miracle. Against crack troops....

And you think we can carry this fight
against the King?

Who can know what is to be? I see not;
although my hopes rise with your honors.

Yet how was the conduct of the troops; did they seek
a lawful goal or no?

Their conduct was wounded,
their argument was death, and their goal
our sacred Liberty.

I don't know if I've the stomach to digest this talk.

Have you a stomach then to eat the King's balls?
For it is your self-assurance of free days
that he cuts up on a golden platter you have paid for
and then feeds to you.

We are all free Englishmen here.

The Parliamentary system of government
is the best in the world. Peers speak
clearly to their causes and interests, and often

against the king. Are we without redress in this?
Surely our safety clamors somewhat in their mouths.

Was it to the cause of our safety and future
that British muskets clamored at dead Lexington,
as Paine here reports?

I don't rightly know....

Every evil law penned and passed against our interests
sped to our shores from that paid den the Parliament.
Oh, they parled our parleyed desires into their purses;
there's not a man among 'em who wouldn't sell
our birthrights to their bidders for one shelled-out
shilling! A damned evil bunch, I say!

Overstating the case, perhaps, but this notion
of virtual representation hardly seems to hold water.
Don't you agree Adams?

I do. To say that our rights and problems
are under the care of those who live in England
who have similar rights and problems, is the same
as being in England and voting for members of Parliament
ourselves, is well, as my Dad says, a stretcher.

Virtual representation is actual tyranny!

Well, things are not so desperate as all that.


All our honest merchantmen have been hard hit
by these recent taxations and exactions,
these duly lawful Acts of Parliament.

These Intolerable Acts impose the King's misrule.

The Parliament is the best system of government
yet devised by mankind.

Surely, though, not perfect.

Nothing is as perfection would have it.

Let us take our chances as they spasm at us!
Democracy's a caffeinated wind in our choiring quarter;
let's let an able nerve convince arms to move
and not a tongue alone. Our dearest object
forever is and must remain: INDEPENDENCY!

Revolt! Treason! It's death for us all by your say-so.
It's not for honorable English boys, as I swear
we are all, to knock so glimmering a thing
as a royal crown into rabble-democratic dusts.

I am not ready to dissolve into revolution yet.

Resolve, I think you mean, for all's now certain
that had an airy unrealness to it before.

But what method of independence do you propose
beyond the bloody dawn of anarchy? How can these colonies
hold together for a common purpose without a common center.
This is what the living symbol of a monarch provides.

He's the father, we his children. Let's let
our loyalty prove as royal as our parentage.

That fucking rex-hex is a veritable Saturn of paternity.
He eats his spawn in the gross pleasure of his table.
All monarchy is crime, and steals its air of authority
from the soveraignty of the common people, who can only
consent to be ruled. That consent denied, all is crime.
We have no voice in Parliament, yet must obey their laws.
Gentlemen, help! Are your reasons so impaired
you see not your chains? Am I not to see
where I stand on earth, and make conjecture
of my future state from a concern of self?

Is not our soveriegn our source of soveriegnty?

To kill a king is no good work for those
born beneath the throne.

Kill a king? O to crush a dirty worm
is every infected party's part. To cough oneself to health
the irretreivable right of every sick man
in protesting protection of his natural vigor.
And tyranny is a foriegn ill indeed. No thing for men
on this untried continent and infinite land, all future
from our shores past green-infinite mountains, to... where?
We cannot see to the far end of this paradise, sirs!
And would you be the wasp-coated servingmen
to dish it up as if it were a new sherbert
to midget empery's appetite? O tell me you would not
docilily serve such self-serving vanity!
What faces shall we wear so that our souls
start not back appalled? Look to India
if you would see how the King will treat us
by slavish domination: sell us to a corporation
for eons of unendurable lackey-work.
Under the elephant's stupid foot! Not a place
for me, at least; I'll resign my part on earth
before I'd crimp my free white neck
beneath such a ton of gross fat greyness.

And killing the king was never seen by me
as necessary to assure our own liberty.

Even a moronic ox knows that once he's thrown his yoke
he needn't trample out his guide-man to stay ramping free!

A moronic ox!

He eats his children! Lexington was a snack, and he's
a starving robber defending his filtched appetite.
What could be clearer?

An old man gnawing on his pile of bones.

Thirteen piles of bones, make no mistake!

A strong image, Paine.

A painful one. Do display more taste, Thomas.

The king has promised to hear our late sent
ambassador with his good ear, and overview
all our penned petitions with a nearer eye.

That eye of his put out Concord in the dark;
how shall it see honest parlance in its home-hole?
Of his cheap, deaf ear----

Paine, Paine, Paine, Paine, there is no
easy touch of pleasure in this tough talk.

If it is in the hard touch of truth to hurt you
take the wound stoutly, and put into your endurance
conviction to hold those bruises honorable.
The pain we take for the convictions our best mind
judges right enhances the goodness of their ends,
and with this right end in view the intermission
transmutes itself to a bearable necessity.
Pleasure herself is a sort of raunchy taunt
when dandled from a master's open toy-box, and not
earned by a more decent labor of our brows and backs.
A Dad's treat to trick his ranting child
to a returning calmness, and then an ignorant sleep.
But pain, if deep enough applied, can hack at lies
and leave us without those false comforters
or with none but that rough comfort-burr of truth:
on such a thorny ground I would barefoot go
and discount the cheap tinsel promises we have now.

[PAINE exits.]

Can we come to no agreement or cordial compromise
on these impending matters?

And what of the dead at Lexington and Concord?

I wonder if they'd be pleased to know they died
in the spirit of compromise.

[JEFFERSON exits.]

Independency! Really!

Our old lives lie extinguished by a fiery word.

Shall we make adventure with all our lives and loves,
even unto the death, upon the thin subsistance
of a word?

Let us make our banqueting hearts eager to eat up
the roaring employment of our days ahead.

[PAINE and JEFFERSON outside collide with a PASSERBY.]

What do we have here? What's this?

JEFFERSON  [With a warning note in his speech.]

PAINE  [Blissfully ignoring him.]
A moment, my friend, when speech and circumstance
might intersect, and the right word tell all.

Well. Now independence is on the tongue.

Soon it shall be in every farmer's hand
and each rough-and-ready plow-black hand
shall be flexed alive against the tyrant-ranting King!

Well, I don't think everyone's exactly convinced yet.

Oh, but where the able tongue purloins the sense
long enough for uneasy conscience to make
its essence's slippery entrance, why then
how long laggard will the deciding mind remain behind
that sets its sharp fence of reasonings against
any backward step? This trined tongue of intent
but once insinuated into the clear air here
where our most honest thinking occurs
overturns an eon of inherited predjudice
and flatters us to action.

Revolution occurs first in the minds of the people.

And words alone may make the mind revolt!

Total treason.

Common sense.


Are you ready for the revolution?



[The Rush household. PAINE is hunched over an apparatus, intently.
RUSH is at a second table.]

Back when I took the book at the Headstrong Club,
obnoxiously orating on my dual theme
of free and freer, I never thought I'd race to a Rush
who collapsed history's wide actions to his narrow minute
and then decided to make that pressured minute EXPLODE!
Oh ho! I've homed in on the Homer I adore,
into American image has the Greek passion passed surpassingly,
willful Iliad, all fight and farce; that was the book
the most ornery, obstinate talker packed back home
from our rum club there in pederasted England.
How can you hear a man's ideas clear
when all he want's is you to tiddle his slumming bum?
Here the air's freer, even the gal-pals I've got
would sooner nail me for my abolitionist views,
and hear them articulated through and through,
than dwell adored in the moony blues of my open eyes.
They turn my ocean of appeal into a puddled pond
of "whys" and "why nots"--- defending deafeningly--
and deftly!-- each of their own articulate points
with finnicky pricks as razor-exact as any man put forth.
Rush! Rush! That vile white thing, spin it here.

I've measured it to the grain, Thomas.

Against the grain were better service in our cause.

I've gotten enough splinters trying to get this damned...

[PAINE lights a short dry rush upon a tallow and inches it towards
 the apparatus.]

And now...

[A loud blast, fire and light stains them. BETTY rushes in, with

Ha ha!

We need to run a confirmation trial.

What is all this noise? You and your songs, Mr. Paine, really!

Music it is dear lady; the potent pop
of your own soma-dose of freedom, madam.

Betty, you'll never guess. We've probably got
a home-source of gunpowder to gag the gaggle of Brits
clipper-shipped to liberty-clipping port
in old New York.

A practical means of resistance.

Resistance? Oh, like that slow glow
that goes along a spiral wire
because its fighting the shock-circuit of electricity,
like Dr. Franklin showed us that one time.

Uh, yeah, I guess so!

Nice. That's got some potent potential for that handsome,
non-spurious, supposed future you reference so sweetly,
I suppose. Maybe my granddaughters in that then
will reel alive in the freedoms that you scribe, Mr. Paine.

Miss Rush, your brother and I have been systematically
eliminating the apparent obstacles to the inevitable
separation of the United States, if I may so term it,
and heather-buried England. That is all.

I'll be damned-- uh, pardon me sis, if that ain't ALL.

And do you think this swivel-switch from hitched
to ditched and unhitched inevitable, too, Benny-boy?

I'll make my glad-handed geopolitical appeal:
The interests of two such mighty continents cannot go
forever together. Nature's stitching plates pull apart
all such useless causes in havoc and catastrophe.

Volcanoes and earthquakes are the makings of such
opposite energies; their spumed fumes increase the splendor
of our sunsets years after such upsets, and that's a sign.

So now you believe in signs, brother, whose medical studies
seek to have the physician's hand rain tender cure
upon itself, opposite the stupid superstitions
back-land indians chant and leech-hacks quack at the corner?

The coming hail that'll separate us and England
shall be in a maiden's mittened mit minted in a trice,
a housewifely confection of saltpeter, etc.
playing the displayed hand of raging nature
on the timescale of one human mind's design.

And how will you pay for your halo, Mr. Paine?

In bliss increments, and laughing all the way.
How, dear Miss Rush, will you dividend your sorrow?
No thing in nature is sad that follows
and fellows its natural qualities.

[PAINE hunches back over the apparatus as BETTY and RUSH talk.]

Let's pick unlocked snoring Pandora's
sweet locked box.

         Would you midwife chaos
out of so infolded a coffer?

And stand a panting paterfamilias to a punchy Paine?
For shame-- if I would not!


Sweet sister; think of how all the world would unfurl
in that stolen moment's triumphant freedom.


The blood of Concord is on our souls!

The colonies in congress assembled have not yet
resolved for independence. Indeed, they seem more willing
to barter back King George's oppressions
for some few tax concessions and call it victory.

After the story Paine told everyone today, you wouldn't
talk like that, sis. If you had heard it, felt it.

Would you rush to war all alone
my imploring little brother?

I'll race to it!

In childhood you were ever an utter terror
and leapt to grow up to my mark upon the doorjamb,
crying, "I'll be bigger than Betty, ever!"
As, indeed, now you are. And I had washed you
in the cradle, and given you all my light-touched cares,
and tended to you every way-- no matter!
You still would raise up your eye at me
and say, a very presumptuous seven then,
"You are but a woman; I will be a man,"
as if that made all the difference.
As, indeed, it has. For you outpace me every way
in the world's affairs, and take the stick
to idiocy, where I may merely, indeed, I must
creep contented to crosshatch stitch my sayings
and put all of my wry commentary, all the luster
and insight of my rich story and view-point
into needle-pointed pillows for your big feet
that have battered back home at a flat run
from high deeds indeed, wherein (or where-out, rather)
I had been by my sex excluded.

But you are a woman, sister, and all
the revolutions of the earth cannot turn
that fact about. What do you think of him?

He's a rude man, and a strange.

He's a great man, and right when all of an age
lavishes itself in wrong opinions.

A kingly man.

Don't say that, or he himself will blow
before ever another report of powder sounds.

Do you not now note how that he hears us not,
but is all by his fluid mind engaged awash
in the high-tide flooding of his destructive pulse
whereby he sees a world engulfed; and yet he sings,
and that not humbly and to himself, but loud
and tunelessly. Has that hanging face of his
ever tied on a smile that was not a one
tried out in high irony, a sort of victor's ribbon
of sly teeth grinning his awkward opponent down?

There is something in a man's part to love
that which sparks some friction in its giving,
and thereby's not too slickly conquered.

Indeed, he is a great contrarian,
and takes it as his pleasure to be opposed.

And yet he'll answer you point by point in argument,
broadsword aside his million rapiers how you will.

[RUSH hands PAINE something for the experiment.]

BETTY  [Aside.]
I'll give his wits a trial, and spot out
the color of his cholor with my brightness.

Thank you, Rush. There. Now we must wait a minute.
Now, what were we discussing?

Why men must make war on their common sense.

Like that soused Davy Rittenhouse who failed to perfect
his skyward-aching inch of telescope from his couch?

His Orrery accomplished the opposite,
downing downy heaven to the ground.

You can peer at the Plieades from a squatted perch
and still reach pleadless your two finger's-worth.

Say, rather, that he and I raise man into his sphere,
and there see celestial fire. For man's all vision,
a heavenly eye widowed to the earth,
an interplanetary planetarium of one.

And what of India, Mr. Paine, what vision operates
to manacle that subcontinent in so white a vise?

Everyone knows that its simply appalling over there,
all lice and infection, and worse, and more;
this sick world itself has how many untreated sores.

Let's get black Sam in on this one: Sam!
Samuel Lemuel, alert, arrive, at once, speed,
hoist aboard, hop up, jump the gun, jam with us,
spike the volley man, and get your ass in here!

[SAMUEL enters, stands in solemn silence by the door.]


Again, what do you think of the British errancy
in India, Mr. Paine? Is it an experiment
in increased slavery-efficiency, the turn
of mankind on man, a lesson in whips
and a pungent moral on productivity,
sprung all awry and a-wrong, or is it a thing
more simply evil in its derivations?

They really do clobber those people over there
something awful; the stories that pour from there.

Is it really much worse than the charmless oppression
a moody husband may in law dagger upon his wife?

The white Rajah last month put twenty men to death
for disappointing his wife at her afternoon tea-taking.
The relatives of the dead men were hard-put
to pay their burial fees, since before killing them
the white Raj had fined each man the sum total
of his back wages to purchase the repair of his wife's
"injured tranquility." Can you imagine?

Don't have to, quite obviously.

No more barbarous analog of man's inhumanity to man
do I know to shout about.

Is it the worst I've heard, or felt on my flinching skin?
I couldn't honestly say.

To honestly say: it's such a treasure.

Wifely obeying, sisterly sashaying,
is there not to be more of me than the female means
to some redoubtable, spouting male end?

Sin, sin; to so self-slay and self-say so.

And yet I'll still be the one to cook up
the skunking gunpowder at home, so you wild boys
can be out and shooting off your guns. Hmmm.

Why don't you write it up, Paine? Put out plainly
why American and Britain should part ways?

Perhaps I'll start. I foresee a day
when the tripartite freedoms of 1), America from Britain,
2) blacks from the whites, and 3) women from
the scourging and scouring positions, will occur.
A good day. Let's purge the scourged. Why can't
the spastic rest of humanity see as me, and know
the limitation on the freedom of one consciousness
claps chains about the rest? Severe delimitations
of the honey of one-one-one-i-oneness. Why the output
of every nation would double on the morrow
if every slave hand and female back could see
an honorable profit in their own actions,
ain't that plain?

Sounds like common sense to me.

Common Sense. A good, solid Scot's title.

You're an alarmist. Always shouting wolf
when most folks don't feel that bad off.
It's a comfort-level thing, and not much else.
This tissue of issues tears to nothing
when pressed to the pins of daily affairs.
This talk and bluster, what's it ever accomplished?

Then let's be precipitate! I'll call all the hail
aghast from heaven onto our current crop of snotty
not-problems, and crush the grain until all's level!
An Alarmist? Yes, I like it. Alaruum!!
Unshell the clarion bells in carillion tones,
each note echo-honing on its brother tone-- oh ho
what a mastery of symphony would America then be!

You want to be under the thumb screaming bloody
murder awhile, then you'll see-- most folks, well,
if they're not in hell with you, they don't
give a damn. When you're in a coma long enough
you get inured to the hurt. Worse thing you can do,
sometimes, is raise the hopes of the injured.

Well, Samuel, you've been silent as Pylades
and cool as a Pharaoh;
ywhat's your take on this?

Seem Mis Betty got de view o' de oppressed.

True enough.

Ain't no easy thing living out in dese times
gots everything of yourself shackled to another
his words switching you every way which and back
running your life around an' no respite
no water-break on dem dere hot backbreakin' days.
Over your own shoulder go your eyes, instead of front,
to see what the future got in store for you
at the mad hands of another, no wife-hands there,
no chil' touchin' a knee you can keep, no folks
or other love-thought guiding the master's hand
or tempering dat man's any act; damn no humanity in dem things
got all twisted about some who-knows-how!
Your eyes all lookin' and no sass passable
out ov your mouth no matter: damn, the things I give
jest ta say my mind right out once afore I died.

[PAINE has been busily re-doing the experiment.
A loud blast, fire and light stains him.]

Rush, our hypothesis is uncannily and without con, confirmed!
We've got the unlocking formula for cheap gunpowder
sifted from shelf-available ingedients! O pretty Betty
and damned Samuel-- you'll run free and rack the world with cries
of all-ecsatic exultation unassailed soon enough!


[PAINE sits composing Common Sense. He is drinking steadily.]

A searing halo-scab crusts my forehead;
I do not know how to make my imaginings real.
Not God, but my own luminous mind has brought me here,
a shuttle of empty light over tar-dark waters.
How intemperate is this life's little tempest that
convulses the scarring rictus of my neighbors' hearts?
I paddled the black Atlantic on my sheer wings to say the one
right word that will flame this marsh-gas bay
of waiting rebellion into the manifesting Heaven
    my vivifying vision begets.
Destruction and creation are chopped from but one block:
the diamond iceberg of imagination is my worker's pick
I pick and choose with, editing the mired files of reality.
It chimes and rings against-- against I know not what, but yet
it rings-- oh-- it is against itself it rings the hardest,
chimes and rings with a futile fury, as if
it burned light to so strike itself and be thus made
illuminable. And I am a charitable, black matchstick demon
chained to the whirling mill-wheel of this work,
striking and striking in the blinding brightness of the Pit.
Oh, well, I know not how well I am, or yet
how well I may be; there's a soapy hope, shall I grab it
merely to have it slither from my gripping?
Each hour's a blinked link in Life's gold chain:
we demand our days be daisies and link them in vain.
Every boiling colony seethes hissing against the king;
his trans-Atlantic scepter rusts in the salt distance.
Wild opinion everywhere is corrosive against this tyranny,
this thing mouthing royal order and tradition
against a fraying wind. So this is how my magic mist of Liberty
begins its insinuations: in the libelous acid-bath
of naysaying complaint. Well, you never know what
you want until, like a baby denied its nipple,
its tickled from you. Sore feet pay the cobbler, as they say.
How will the common people my Common Sense ingest?
History has its tides, yet I'll surf the crest
on my hand-made revolution for the masses, by the mass!
I'll be the first to print what they niggling feel
and reduce all loyalty from monarch madness to sane
themselves--- as infinite human potentiality, nothing less.
Hunched in my prision of skin, how insanely rips
my ineluctable spirit towards its transcendence!
A free bird will shread its wings against a cage,
no matter how golden. Men will in one blood-thumped second
destroy the finest system of governance devised on earth
in all her generations to get back a single whiskey-lick
of the uninhibited Liberty they had tasted heretofore.
One reckless pulse, and all the noble past
            is pushed to the stinking heap!
Desire is infinite; possibility is finite;
but the true, determining actions of men that shape
their crowded cowed lives hived striving together,
even to the half-done mark half as well
as a lazy anthill's improvisational organization
are few, few indeed-- and sparely placed in history.
This is my minute to push the wisp toward incandescence,
my arriving fire's the one to transmute rebellion's bonfires
into individual Liberty's multifarious candleabra,
the thousand stabs of light burned true out of today's
inflammable haystack of discontented "maybes."

[PAINE pulls a quill from an inkpot.]

Come, my feather, and fan the damning flame,
we're fallen angels all and still squeak at the light
like deluded bats in our hopeless caverns: fly,
my feather, on hopeful airs and the destruction's
daring updraft, on into the sun of reason, a winning Darius
fuelled by his whipping ambitions from light to light.
Below us, all the old monarchy's fluxed in immolating ruin;
above, the reasonable sun draws us on until as sweet mists
we rise to his imperishable realm: a radient and radical
farmfield of high Enlightenments. Flock to freedom,
my angel minions, or perish dully all in hesitation's flames.
  [PAINE begins to write.] I write in light!



[Before a tavern. Enter three idiots.]

 These are suspicious times.

 Then it were well to suspect everything, and keep a watch-out.

 And our civic duty too.

 And if you keep a watch out, you shall find the time to
 be roundly burgled. Watches are rare jewels in a poor place.

 Well, then, how else to find out the time we're in?

 And if we're suspicious, we can deduct it.

 Well, it is night plainly enough.

 Know you by the dark, or by the lack of daylight?

 Why, by the lack of daylight, for there's many seasons
 for it to be dark in.

 Ay, my wife will put me to 'em oft and oft.

 It's tyrannous tough to be a bride's thing.

 If the bride have a thing, I would suspect myself,
 and think me no true man.

 Then what if you give her a thing?

 Why then I would respect her under near examination, and
 have no more doings with her, if a divorce could not
 settle the peace between us.

 Absence then would keep the peace.

 And a peaceful piece is a pretty peace.

 And the maids will be warring their skirts over their heads again
 to get out the piece.

 [Looking around.] This is someplace hereabouts.

 It behooves us to entrance it-- if it is a tavern.

 I have some reading. I shall spy out the sign, if I see any.

 Spying is a bad offense, unless it be plain.

 Then, if it be a plain sign, without marks, I shall spy out
 if I shall read of it, or no.

[PATRON exits.]

[Sings drunkenly.]
    Lib-bert-ty tib-bert-ty tree!
    Lads of Athens, faithful be
    to thyself
            and Mystery!
    All the rest is perjury.
    Lib-bert-ty tib-bert-ty tree!

 Well, is he a spy or no?

 I see he is a plain man with nothing to doubt him above
 the average.

 Are you well-knowing of it?

 Ay, he is enough like me to leave no assurance. And I am as
 plain a man as never took note.

 Well, then, if he is as plain a man as you, I shall attempt
 a reading of him.

 As long as there is no sorcery about your business. I am
 from Salem.

 My business has no beginning to source it, sirrah. Not even
 a passim Salem.

 Well, and he was as drunk as a skunk, was he not?

 A plain drunkard, as I ought to know who owns a mirror.

 I revelation that he was drunk, sirrah.

 And what think you well of that?




 Come, sir, what think you well of it in all these wells?

 Well... I think it be as plain a sign as any that we're
 come to a tavern.

 Oh, well then, let's make a boldly into it, and mark an
 entrance where he did come out-of-doors.

 Come; let's subtly then.

[They enter. A RECUITMENT OFFICER is signing men up for the war.]

 What are all these men a-standing about and signing?

 It is a signal that I am suspicious.

 Ay, then let's sniff slowly.

 I for one had rather not smell.

 Then nose about without breathing.

 And thus sufficate? I had rather smell myself.

 No you wouldn't.

 Why do you men stand in such amazement?

 Why, because we've found ourselves in a maze, and cannot
 wend about of it.

 As long as there is beer, I shall bear it.

 Ay, in your gullet.

 As long as my money holds out my arm shall hold out too.

 Ay, and a mug at the end of it.

 And your gullet too; pouting out fat and burpish.

Are you men ignorant?

 I suspect.

Are you ignorant of the news that the Continental Congress has
passed a resolution for independence?

 If I am, they have kept it independent of myself, and assorted
 their cause of independence right well.

There's a maze in such a speech.

 Ay, true said, friend.

According to the resolution, we are now to be no more of England,
but only of ourselves.

 And if I am not myself, I am as Englished as any that
 never spoke a true tongue.

Well, then. Have you read the Common Sense by Tom Paine?

 Say yes.


Then you know he makes the case plain to every faculty,
that we should be a separate peoples, and that the king
is no more than a brute beast to oppose us.

 The king a brute beast?

Ay, and tyrannous. And that we have the power to form a
better self-governance than his could ever be. And that we
have the power to make the world over again in our lifetimes,
if we but put our shoulders to it and follow our hearts
and hopes.

 Then, if the King rule us, we are no governors, and lack a rule.

 Why, that's plain anarchy.

 And if we would run about under that, it were a dark day.

 Ay. And no light to see a tavern by.

 But I see one plain. Or what else do I spy?

Your friends are in some confusion....

 Ai me! Then it is anarchy come down among us from on high,
 as they say.

 It is the crucible of God's will.

 Very plain, very plain.

 Then we must be governors at once, and no delay for light
 to see ourselves by in suspiction, lest the time fly by.

 That's a truism.

 And a friendly one to lead me on. [To RECRUITER:] Say,
 if I sign this, is governance back among us all?

We shall fight for it to be so.

 And blood shall be spilt in the contest?

Ay, or else it were no fight.

 And all this is Common Sense?

Very common.

 Oh. If you read this thing, friend, your eyes are traitors.

 For certain a traitor.

 Ay, it's very plain, very plain.

 And did I say I read this?

 Ay, you did, and with no little prompting of friendship.

 And if my friend lead me on to traitor my eyes, shall
 the rest of me be anathema?

 Ay, very much so. And if you are anathema, you are
 no friend of mine to my nose to stick out stinking so.

 Oh, and if I am no friend of yours, I am no traitor,
 since then no friend did lead me on to read this
 Common Sense.

 There's the king's man!

 And none no more so loyal as I.

 Then are we ready to look down at your papers and
 sign up, sirrah, being no eyeing traitors, but that we
 give out an equal naying to all.

 Here's quill and ink.

 But yet hold off. And if I sign this, what shall I be?

 From your loudness, I'll put you down as an ordinance officer.

 And if the ordinance be of a great enough caliber to keep
 the peace easily, I shall be a peace officer too.

 Only if it break the peace.

 Ay, truism enough. And then either way I shall be an officer,
 which I was in England.

 And that's as sure a truism as ever I heard, or they all be false.

 Let them all be false, these truisms, so long as that mine is true.

 And if it's true, your shooting will go well.

 If it makes others go astray, it shall.

 Truism enough, friend.

 [To RECRUITER:] And what shall I be in the lists?

A dead man, most likely.

 You're a true enough large caliber target to get killed.

 And as long as I count as two hits, I will be satisfied
 to have played a bigger part than most.

 That you do already, friend.

 And if I witness such purgation, I shall be happy.

 And I too, if I should live to see my death.

 God save you! And if you should chance to see it not,
 I'll report it to you in the hereafter.

 Slow your oath! If God saves me, we shall miss each other
 in damnation.

 Ay, I had forgot that. And I would not miss you for all
 the world.

 If you miss him, you are no ordinance man at a shot.


 And if I am true, I am an ordinance man; so I shall not
 miss you, friend, on either the field of battle here or
 hereafter; and if I am an ordinance man, then I am a peace
 officer again as well, and serve the King by example what
 my loyalty is.

 Ay, all that, if you sign here.

 And then we should be back among the English by your scheme?

Yes. And many a man better than you.

 Why, there is no better Englishman than myself, God save the
 King, sign me up.

 Sign you up, sir. Can you make your mark?

 And if I was not as loyal an Englishman as the King, I could
 sign my name as well in any language, mark me.

AMERICAN RECRUITER [Offering paper.]
 Here then.

 And will I serve the King a good turn, if I assign this?

 Ay, if you disturb his sleep enough to give him a turn.
 But truly, sir, you can do the King's service no better
 service than to remove yourself from his.

 And I will be among English again, if I go my name here?

 Ay, I have said so. You'll be thick among the thick.

 And what was our aim among 'em?

 Why, if it's a right good aim, to rid the land of them all
 by death or expulsion.

 Back to England?

 Ay, or hell.

 Oh, well then, you were a constable in Exeter, were ye not?


 And you will be back among the pushers to Exeter then.

 Oh, and I will be at the front of the pushers, policing
 my fellow Englishmen back to district, as was my wont at home.
 Oh, now, if this is my duty again, sign me up, and God save
 the foundation!

 And I might be a legal spy, among the Englands, with no threat
 of the interminable?

 If we end this conversation, and you all sign, there is
 no more interminable thing on earth that has ended.

 I see your meaning hidden plain. Sign me up too, Johnathan.

 Ay, me too. I cannot mark to write, whether I will or no,
 so mark me-- I am as loyally suspect as either of you two!

 God save the King!

[They sign.]


[At General Howe's Long Island Headquarters. The three man
troop escort in this scene are the same three new recruits
from previous scene.]

At Bunker Hill and Breed's demoralizing debacle
we showed his highness' ass-men something of our toughness.

But we were defeated!

I'd sell them a thousand such hills, such defeats,
if they paid such a price for each overweening tiptop.

We wouldn't crouch and scat at the first smacking.

Indeed. We hissed a something spectacular
from the advantage of our barricades. While we held them.

And now we are off to the foul Howe dispatched
by the snatching patch-work of Congress
ambastardored to sew our mini-victories
into this truce-rag of defeat. We come to combine
our bilious biles in one puke of peace,
nothing more. It's foul, I say.

Then be the watchdog, Adams, and, if things issue foully,
lick back up such peace to its initial indigestion.

If I must, I shall.

Tom Paine put a pretty piece of the populace
behind our designs with his invective.

My brother signed up the moment he finished his first
read-through of Tom's lopsided Common Sense.

I have offered my corrections to his ill-digested ideas
as Publius Civis; there's no way we can live with
his spastic democratic demands.

And yet, without him, we'd be almost armyless.
I can't tell you the crowd of talk his
pamphlet shouted out of hiding.

And such a groundswell re-geared the keel
of our Continential Congress, Adams.
You know it. The July Fourth resolution for
independence would never have passed without
that tippling inch of doing pressure
undoing our tentative members' insecurities.

Yes, yes. The man's a genius demagogue;
I'm just glad he's on our side.

And now we have a real war on our hands.

Speaking of which, I don't like the way
our sullen Sullivan came limping back captured
from our host Howe's enemy camp so fat and feted,
legging it to Philly all hot and ready
to pant a peace and plant upon our honors
a king's kiss.

We're well to walk here warily, inching our steps.
It's certain no compelling king, in his habit of command,
ever gave his executing general his full mind
since time and kings began.

You step into my argument like a trace-horse, Franklin,
and make my meaning race at double-speed. Let's circuit
our commission to its finishing here and now
and decide against Howe's howsoever persuasions
before he licks us nickering to a different ribbon.
To whatever he says, we'll be Yankee stags,
and bray all nays.

Yea, I say, if ye'll have me
stamping after your quick fetlocks, Mr. Adams.

Too fast, too fast! My coursers, discourse!
Often has a score of words done more good than blood.

[Inside Howe's Headquarters, as a servent lets the Americans in.]

Bunker Hill was not worth the blood that muddied it,
all with sour redcoats harshly sauced. We're alone
on a continent of able axes anxious to hack at us.
Our detatched detatchment runs too ruinous a progress
against the tartness of their muskets' invective;
force of arms, so detatched, is too gruesome a prospect
to assure our royal appetite's respite. Where's dinner?
These cordial colonials who served us comeuppance
in the cups of our own heads are coming mustered now
to my marooned house in strategic Long Island,
stepping to the drum-tap I command. With a swelled sweetness
will I greet them, and with honeyed words defeat them.
There's enough lush fat in this America to go round!
Take the damned lamb off its twisting spit at once, Pierre!
We'll throw these rough-housing, somber blue boys a tax break
and mate them back to the hungry bum of our loving monarch:
a king's kiss! God save the king!

[HOWE toasts. Party enters.]

We had some difficulty in finding you.

Old grievances are like old shoes
and make every new step painful.

We'd gladly give you the royal boot
so you would only be forced to paddle back
to England, and not march on to war.

Your tongue's too sharp-- upon my soul!

Do not make it slash practice upon your heart
or you shall bleed for it.

Come, let's to dinner, and bury our hatchets
in some four-footed meat. This Paine of yours, with his
Common Sense, prates like another Pericles,
but instead of honorable union with his King, his tears
and tearing protestations rip a fetidness from fertile fields
and from the bludgeoned dead of cold Concord
draws out in dark and dusk the musky fungus Discord,
and lets set florescing the million attendant lichens
of intolerable Democracy. Surely such a scheme
set rotting in so pure and wide a garden as America
is anathema to gentlemen such as yourself.

Democracy's a mob in a garish coat of laws
so patched and pinched with imperfections
the crazy wind of Anarchy will chill its wearer
to the bone.

There's the fellow!

Not all of us are of a color to tinge
our constitutional formulation to his solution.

There's the fellow! So, know from me
that the King shall all his purse of taxes
pour back out upon these shifting shores
and leave to the discretion of yourselves
all nattering money matters in the future.

So Sullivan said, who jogged to jar
all our apprehensions with your words.

If Parliament permits, of all this I can assure you.

That smacks of a start.

If the King is willing to resign in principle
his sovereign right to tax without consent....

In principle? Never; how could he lose those rights
that God and all law's precepts align to grant him?
But he shall relent in the unspecified interregnum
and let your novus ordo seclorum play alone
along these shores' as-yet-untested serrations.

Let's taste more.

Here's another slice: but re-swear your royal loyalties
to crown and England as we down this swish of wine--
and all the rebels shall stand with a pealing repeal
of soveraign pardon upon their clamoring crimes.

Come you here with the power to pardon?
So you may say. But you are wrong. You have not that power.
He who can pardon can only pardon one who has
by erupting interruption of some hallowed right
done some wasteful wrong. Since we did give no such offense
your presumptive pardon lacks its puissance.

Not swear back again to the King?
How then could you be his loyal subjects?
How then could the fraternal breach be healed?
What other budding buss should be our business
if not that?

And should we swear our allegiances to this King
and against our sacred Liberties? I think that each
man-jack among us would rather die today and be free.

Our enduring liberty is to live and be
self-deciding, self-governing, and free.

The King himself is now more royally aware
of all your colonial gripes and groanings;
should he now go deaf to them? But trust his majesty!
He feels your pain.

Should the mugged man trust the cut-purse?
One who then, to palliate the offense
promises to pardon those he has offended?
Only the drug-addict and his pusher continue
in mutual love when all basis for trust is cut.
I'm not so high on the purled word Sovereignty
to muster up my trust for absent kings
absent the gravest assurances.

Grave assurances shall we all have in eternity
if we four cannot conduct a living peace
to this entreating table tonight.

Yet you yourself declared your guarentees
provisional to Parliament's approbation.

How could it be otherwise? I own not a man of them.
They are free to vote their conciences before the King.

You see my point then.

They vote freely, and with free voices,
while we are bound in a virtual reality.

But they shall approve at home what I do say
in the field; I know it. I know they will.
I have the King's consent in this, and his voice
shall over-master their static, if they profess any.

One voice is no voice if it rules others to silence,
but is itself rather a sort of pestilent silence,
choking all.

But the King is the State.

If that state is a desert.

I am a man of worth, and a worthy gentleman;
my voice will float upon the controversy of these waters
and oil to a calmness the place of Parliament--
My voice and impress shall not there be ignored.
Mercy or annihilation is mine to procure.

And yet, you have no power to say the last.

Dash it! I am an honorable gentleman! And that
is enough; or else there is no England for you
to spurn or rejoin.

Any who would consent to these bribing bids
loves not himself, and deserves not his Liberty.

Let your rebellious feet leave my premises
and walk alienate from soveriegn sod forevermore
if you are all of a mind to decline this overture.

My Liberty is not so cheap as your threats.

Nor is mine available at the price of your promises.

  [To an aide-de-camp.]
I hereby proclaim a general amnesty to all
American troops; post it on every tree.
Any who would come in to us, bring in,
and in they shall dart, back to the royal right;
oh they'll come, and at a run, to the fraternity
they had so unbrotherly abandoned.
And you shall all be hung on the yardarm
like damned pirates, without so much dignity
as a peasant who expires in the dirt. Get out.

Come. We'll pull ourselves away.

[They exit.]

Howe's amnesty could scuttle all our hopes,
and leave us with not a man at the yawning gunwales
of our ship of state.

Ought we to have been so obdurate, Adams?
Perhaps our perversities will scurvy us
on these ominous high seas of independency.

Our fruits at least shall be of our own growing
and not vined tentacle-like from glum London's
emcumbering Parliamentary hothouse garden.

We'll go forward then, and not froward.

Damned be any backward hand now.


[By a campfire.]

I sit here, in seared hearing of this bleak defeat
of stormed Fort Washington across the bleary Hudson,
tapping out my day's thoughts atop a resting drumhead
with my slim measure of ink and brain. There's England,
arterially red, pulsing well against our held position,
crashing in on our cornered troops. Gate's smashed;
the flimsey picket fence is overrun with stumblers and others.
My ambling hands stain with this useless soot of words
while those patriots gore the earth with blood.
Did certain sniping words of mine send out
certain men the English shot? I've nibbed my quiet quill
to loud killing, and redden my shameful papers
with unlucky deaths, haphazard as a rash of dotted i's.
Its what I wanted, non? And yet: to win is all.
To half-carry our half-escape hunchbacked into raw dawn
and not to win by our hard-bearing turtle-crawl
I count a sin against myself that I cannot grave
in any shape of peace. We must win. We must.
How to do it, though? That's the fucking crux---
and my dreams all harshly in my lumpen throat
cry me quiet until I wake unworlded, and quite wordless.
How much harder will it be for us to win free?
I follow my boyhood dream of liberty like a beir
from funeral to funeral.... How long til it's my own?
Our boys tumble in the grass with graceless playlessness
and speed toward the imagined safety of the dark.
We haven't the boats to nip across the uneven Hudson
and tuck our losing men back into New Jersey's nighttime.
As thin and blue a line as my retreating vein
scatters from the hazard of the onslaught, a blood splotch
of advancing redcoats; all green's blotched black
in the firelight's withering fritter of light.
Tiny legs, tiny arms, tiny, silent screams
that only roar back awake in my rearing dreams.
What deserveless death is coming to those humble ones?
All the hard hopes I had stitched together in a gale
to reach these unimpeachably peachy shores
are forced apart oh so easily in the deadly breeze.
I watch these snows thunder silence upon the dead.

[A BOY enters.]

Sir, Genr'l Washington's requestin' your presence
respectf'lly next time he hits a camp in the sticks.

That'll be Hackensack or some such.
Danke, boy.

Danke? What's that?

German for "Thank You." Something to say
when the Hessians overrun our frail position,
our wickedly thin picketline of foundling blood.
Not your own, I hope, of course.

Nor you neither, sir. [Pause.] With respect, sir....

PAINE  [Thinking.]
Yes? You still here? What is it?

Am I dismissed, sir? I think I gotta drum retreat.

Hmm. Yes. [Hands BOY the drum.] Scat!


[At WASHINGTON's tent.]

Today I shall wowingly reimagine my swatted world
and its crookedly connived constitution with truth's force;
divinity, with a little human imagination,
can get the job done. These are the times....
I shall orate an augerful of frothing truth
and not swallow back a word while I live!
This dirty tent, thrashed in the back-sizzle of new hail,
tied frozen down in these grimy woods,
here's a place to lay sweet newness on the earth,
inaugurate a heart to the swift weird will of one,
here's a place, an altar of activity to actively
announce my grown-tough truth, a fabled place, perhaps,
where future disaster or glory laps at circumstance
and sheer human will overturns all the tides that meet!
Ha ha! I in my mock coracle-cockle will toss the turbulence
in my humanly mouthed direction on towards perfection,
and not drop dropsey-sick into the old worm trails
that so lovingly lattice the past with irking defeats,
the benighted unlightedness of my predecessors.
What have they ever lived to light their way to
besides death and the present tyranny?
This present tyranny and trumpeting injustice that makes me
curl curdled against it and call to the remote sky:
I must! I must! Can Justice exist when all are not free
to imagine it into some hammered shape of perfection?
Come rain, come storm, come snow,
   withering blizzard or puffing drift,
      I see the forecasted crests' shapes
and do not spurn my own straightness of purpose!
I'll knock at the tent-- and may that tent let me enter!
   [Crowing:] I've come! I've come! I've come!

WASHINGTON  [Waking up.]
In God's name, who the hell is that!?!!

Tis I, in the blaming name of no God but my own:
Thomas Paine. I was sent for, and adjudged the cause,
and, having backhanded the winter that would stop me,
I have arrived.

Out of the rocks themselves, it would seem.

Out of the furious snow storm, certainly.

Sir, you have arrived with the chill swiftness of a ghost
swirled from the white nightmares of my dead sleep.
Even this midnight entrance brings my writhing mind
to the one thing, one problem constant as a drumbeat:
desertion. My ranks are as thin as Franklin's pate
and as hungry as if he had sucked up all their suppers.
General Hamilton corralled his men on Boston Commons
and harangued them in a shaming speech to ask 'em
if they'd extend their rebel enlistments by a stretch
of even four days forward from the new year nearly here,
and not one in four stepped forward. A general amnesty now
would unman us down to zero. I thank the Deity
that Howe had lied to Adams and them on Long Island;
our cause could not survive his generosity today.
This is our first hard year of winter, man,
and is like to be our last. Our cause
in bloody abortion stands, and the restless snows
are cherried with our deaths. Exhaustion cannot rest,
but churns on harrassing dreams even in ditched sleep.
We cannot win. We must not lose. What brave words
do you bring to one so confused?

That liberty is no ghost, genr'l, but our only reality;
as alive as the men and women that imagine it.

As fiery as your pamphlets, Paine.
I wonder, are you as soon burnt when tossed
into the crossways rash heat of war's crucifying fire?

The test! The test! My tongue itself's a flame
and my heart smoulders knowingly enough aghast against
cold England's distant injustice, heart-pressed
by the eager evil of those Tory lords
to our honest American breasts, jammed
by that pampered tyrant rattle-ranting
from his damned castle to pull our pitch
of mutual coalition back into the spastic Atlantic.

This damned seige of defeat has the men down
and near drowned. They won't take it, and it's
hit them hard in the balls, by God.

Self-slavery will hit them harder.

Well, if the troops could be fed upon long letters,
I would believe we have the best commissary on earth.
Until that time....

If they live long enough to take their ease
after a beating defeat by the Despot
(those who don't go hanged, or bang-banged by a squad),
they will live to sire enslaved great-grandsons
on an English fiefdom, a Parliamentary playground
carouselling their dear ideals into bright, shining lies.
They'll mint their new mine of liberties to cuffs
and not coins of free exchange for their inheritors.

It's hard watching your soldiers starve.
Nursed in the pilgrim night by three generations'
crazy liberation, I don't think they're ready to back out
blackened in the eye and soul by imperial men.

I'd hope no man so backward and willful
against his own golden chance. This hour'll
not come round again in our winding down, Washington.
This glad hour must be held aloud and told on every wind
or die soundless as a tear in a velvet coffin.

Still have to shoot 'em if they go south on you,
can't have commiseration turn to dissolution,
shoot 'em in the back if they won't turn round and take it;
damned hard to take, giving out the orders for that,
and their own blood frozen on their broken feet,
      swaddled in scraps, feet looking like bloody babies,
both the feet of them that get shot, and those
that do the shootin'. Nothing good in any of it.
Can't even bury the ones you shoot, really, pile ice
over the snow, call any whiteness sticking up ice
and hope you're not in the same place same situation come spring.
There was one we near buried just today,
        how young was his soft-seeming face
turned brutal-hard. I looked down at him, the neutral shovel
splashed the lime like powdered light upon him,
down on his face, down his shoulders, and on down.
Little hope and great heartache. And the Brits
sit in fine fettle, fat Hessians eating Christmas goose
and other potables denied us in this war.
Stings, hurts; too tough to tell of,
      even to speak a word, in some ways.
War's not for honor. Little accomplishment, vain days
blizzarded against us. No gentleness left in nature
or ourselves....

No gentleness....

So, you're the demented Brit who gloveless shoved
the demos-rabble toeward towards sabre-rattling self-
emancipation. So, what do you think of the present situation?

My divine mind, in uncluttered creation of itself,
followed out the currents of the current, royal knot
and proceeded by hard thought to daringly undo
each weave-waver of the fiber that I could
back to the looming first pluck and spool
of their dreaded threads, the initial conditions
that made tyranny the inextricable inexorable
tangle of that spun thread's outcome; primary causes
and first principles alone I allowed my by-myself mind
to trace, fingeringly unravel and sinlessly unstitch.
Let us begin as I myself had started: since the king
is as cipher-zero without his thousands of subjects
(and since my ton of words is a weightless nullness
in his Highness' lead-adapted ear, a nothing of disgruntlement)
I interviewed those who knew of their self-soveriegnty.
And in this I came to the native wildness
of individual Liberty, the unsold self we each
reach into the create a god or nod to a soveriegn,
or rebellingly unleash a quicksilver rain of disdain
on these things that had kited over us
in the temporary high-wind of our self-ignorance!
The clowning crown has clasped these freedoms to crow
a know-nothingness of impressive feats and feasts
and dangling fates down the echo-alleyway of tin-eared history:
here a man is pinned to a rickety stick
on Golgotha, there a Spartacus rises whip-angry
against a reviled slaver's salveless hand.
In the caved-in carved tomb of our own commonwealth
there is glorious evidence and incident enough
to black the tides with ink of their telling.
But these secret histories of freedom's shouts
I'll not relate beneath your tent tonight.
To those others who knew it not, I reminded them
that they are born free and only sell themselves
into the ruined pool of subjugation by their actions:
the daily prayers to resign their wills to a blank diety,
the dread repeat of illegal laws obeyed, and not examined,
like a stupid boy camp-following a dumb drum
for its deaf, mesmerizing beat, and not because he knows
the red fields of timeless agony he's entering.
By these simple repetitions a life is lived---
and if it makes me spit my charming heart
like a ravaged, bloody flag upon the nation-stick
of my invective pen...
well, then, that's the least I could do,
moved to make a human sound at all I see and feel.

You know, don't you, that I never toasted
"King and Country" after I had read
your damnable scribble?

A sound decision. Redounds unbounded to your
inevitable credit as a freethinker, Genr'l.

Oh, things redound to me from all directions,
Mr. Paine. Hundreds of things come cannon-balling my way
daily. It's a fell acre of hell out there. Fell indeed.

Your Americans need you, Washington.

My Americans! Fuck, I need a drink. The rum, Tom.
To splash my unbelieving eyes with horrored sights
and tear out my clear hearing with death-sighs
seems this war's only purpose. I swear
this retreat eats out our hearts before the Brits
can shoot them out of our chest, via the spine.
To all tyrants' demise!

[They drink.]

Tyrant and subject, master and slave....
Master and slave are the old world's vaunted divisions.

A vision of divisivness! Old blind-maid Fate!
Such a damned dumb mummery, an antique peep show
unfit for the finer feelings of mankind.
Why would I rape my innocent innards simply
to be declared, by my own owned slave, the winner?

A thin satisfaction for an enslaved brain, I agree.

Where's the meat for a heaving heart
in that withered domninion?

I don't know. I don't know. It seems
an unreal disease to me, a Macbeth infliction,
going to bed on empty ambitions to awake in nightmare.
Its a dirty world, and Hackensack is the center of it.
Now it seems, at least. But you are a fine man
with a pen, Paine. You're Common Sense united a nation,
named it, gave it a sense of itself, etc., etc.
Can you turn the trick again on my demoralized boys?
They'd like a vigorous victory, a proud hour
upon the field of honor, but if we took on England
full force to force in coercing battle, we'd be down and out
in a minute, bayonetted embarrasingly back to colonial status.
This retreat through New Jersey has been a heartbreak
to every barefoot dogface shivering with us.

I'd love to, but I'm plumb out of rum.

  [Opening a trunk, pulling out a bottle of rum.]
Sit your cockney ass down and have a few;
we'll warm the warning ink over the fire here.

I always keep a juicy pouch in my crotch-pocket;
if it freezes down there, I'd just as soon
snap off my whole career as a pen-man, monseuier.

Have another.

To the survival of the ideal in the real.

What can we do for each other but get dunking drunk?

Fabius, baby, the best of life is but inebriation.

You know, don't you, that after I read Common Sense
I could no longer toast 'Long live the King?'

Go to bed, Washington, go to bed.
Your head's in a rum sack, and my heart's
far too tense-excited to beat asleep now anyway.
I'll write, I'll write, and give these fragments of a dream
hard words. Let no tyrant sleep tonight
but that some oppressed slave
goes by his bed breathing nightmares
upon his naked neck. Open wide your restless eye,
for I shall be a scampering Scavola, I swear,
with a rib-tickler of heart-stopping razor words.

WASHINGTON  [Dead drunk.]
I'm going to bed.

PAINE  [Also drunk.]
Master and slave, master and slave,
what ideals are these that I, I Tom Paine,
give my rewinding, revolutionary mind
a flickering minute's undecided pause?
Oh, I'll do it as an exercise for my right mind,
to think on the world as I wouldn't want it,
as it really is without our devout success:
all sliced into that dicotomy of master and slave,
saved and burned, trashed and polished, sweet
and sour... heh heh. That'll clear my brain
for the real theme free selves, even stuffed in slave-skins,
tragic masks of forced labor wearing gulag scalplocks,
get crucified on the high wire of history for: Liberty.
If I were a wailing slave, a murderer and a bum,
what would my outlook look like? I'd sing:

I trod to prison on burning feet
Accompanied both before and back
By squadroned angels in heaven's black
Receding into the abject divine;
They ferry souls upon their backs;
I was trussed against the horizon's line
But had no captors I that could see
But my squad of angels to accompany me.
I am John Brown and will not come down;
Cold murder of the one or the all.
   Spartacus defied when hard men called
   And deified more angels than God.

My hands were bound in threads of blood;
I struggled against harsh cordage once
And was blinded by a golden hood.
My guilt has come and gone many times
As I recalled or forgot my crimes,---
Yet all about me I feel the wings
Of my locust angels on everything.

The Executioner flips his lash
In mockery of innocence:
Irrational murder has made him
One with the common tide
Raising his spade with the bladed wave
That falls to his own side;
By every blue, angelic face he may erase,
By every thought he kills, he's less.
I am dead but still can chant
All a passing artist's passions out:
Interior echo of the outward shout.
   Spartacus defied when hard men called
   And crucified more angels than God.

Are my grim limbs, hanging inverted here,
Above the midnight chrurchyard's grave
Above all that ghostly-priestly rant and rave
All exalted sacrifice has won
All ecstatic triumph has known?
All scatters backwards madness-chased
Into a rolling blizzard-ball;
Insect angels surround my ground
And their wailing wings buzz-sing:
Whore or chaste, the world's laid waste

 Come kill the one or the All.

These are the times....

[PAINE begins writing.]


[At the tent the next morning.]

In God's name, Paine, get your fucking ass out of bed!

[WASHINGTON kicks  PAINE in the head.]

In God's name, never. On my own account, well,
I'm still too curious to see how the sun goes round
to not get up. I suppose.

Hmm. That was one fuck of a twister
we had on ourselves last night. Hmm.
Got your damned words?

Yes, yes. They're all here. I'll need
a windless spot where I can be tender
with the stiff sheets, though, the midnight ink
froze on the pages before it could dry right.

Stand in the shadow of my horse's ass.
That should almost be cover enough. The men
are trembling assembled in the field outside.
God, what a poxy lot! Yet I need more
of their innocent number if we're to remain
free in theory, and grasping after the fact.
Wipe your sandy eyes and read, Tom.

PAINE  [Reading.]

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the
sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his
country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks
of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have
this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious
the triumph. What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly: ‘Tis dearness
only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price
upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as
Freedom should not be highly rated.”

TROOPS  [Singing, sort of.]
    Rum and water for old Tom Paine,
    With rum and water he'll save our ass again;
    The angels he'll entreat
    To parliament and debate---
    Convinced they don't exist,
    They'll dissipate for shame!!

I am a glorious boy and spiral where I will,
giving ground to none on history's high dunghill.



[Seven years later. PAINE and WASHINGTON are on a small skiff
at Rocky Hill, testing the waters there for marsh gas.]

Fart in the jar, George.

Thomas, hand me the fucking wine.

We only have champaign; you know that.

[There is a loud, resounding sound.]

This patriotic celebration is costing us a fortune.

PAINE  [Hurrying, knocking  WASHINGTON out of the way.]
Cap it! Cap it! We'll have to seal this with wax
as soon as we paddle back, duck and stroke home
to test the gas' composition and capacity.

Yes, Tom, yes. By all means, immortalize my farts.

Ah, George, can you really believe its all over?

Oh, I can. I can.

What's next then for our interminable freedoms,
our unfinished zip to achieve and be?
What new-foliaged laurel shall we yearn
to pursue, where will our dragonfly likes alight?
What driven-down or under-rated item
shall we ressurrect to its original worth and virtue
as we have the Roman Civitas regained,
regained and raised to a serious, religious,
real and human highness?
Good God, Tom, do you really need a cause
beyond the simple one of peace? Look around--
our continent and countrymen are at liberty;
we do as we choose in loose co-mutuality. Ain't that
enough to subdue your rough wishes and manicness?
I could live a thousand years on a simple acre.
And if we keep this acre free, I shall.

My future includes a rupture of the ancien regime
and a spectacularly faceted new Republic for France.

I've heard of the stacatto of disturbances
from over there. You'll have to be quick.

They themselves have seen our experiment go aright.
They themselves have helped it come to be.

Their country's perhaps high-tide high enough to try.

They elevate the meaningful mind
to a fair height.

I believe they might marshall a martial example
from the flying bayonet involvement thay had here.

Layfette and his flueur-de-lis lisp
took some narcotic quench of our opiate trip
and trapses to try his new tropes
against the Paris galleries' rope.

Salons and sinister men. Old guard Admirals
fin the dry land like sharks there, Tom.
You be careful.

If I take my naked innocence with me
who can denude it?
I'll add my optimistically throated note
to their plangent Plantagenet choir.
We'll uncrown a king
and set a fresh French 'mister' on his feet.

Nothing like seeing how unhinged reality really is
to buck up those with a new good thing
to begin to believe in.

Amen. [Pause.] And I've an iron bridge design
I'd like to place across the commercial twirl
of a swinish seine over there. Someone may buy into it.

I wish you well with your ungovernable,
fanatic fondness for newfangledness.
Harness it as best ye may.

I shall. I think each day somehow
has a new, untried trueness in store for me,
if I can but strike an aim at its burning center,
release myself,
and fly fast enough to the alarming target.

Perhaps your iron bridge will arrow you there.
Good thing we weren't trying to unrivet one
of those things as we retreated from the British!
We might've lost the war if your ingenuity
had quicker tempo, Tom.

Some new solution for it dissolution
would've come to dismantling hand at the time.
Of that I haven't the slightest doubt.

Neither the Continental Congress, nor any
private subscription among the victors in this contest
has been ferreted to light to fund you Tom
or underwrite out of sheer gratitude your existence.

It figures. Just as well I'm on my way then.
In fact, I might construe my dear adieus as overdue.

This ingratitude of an entire nation, and that
nation my own, and yours, the nation we invented....
well, it shames me deeply, and I am weak
against the shame, dear man.

I gave every penny-ounce of my thousands of pounds
earned by my copyrights of Common Sense and the Crisis Papers
to buy wool mittens and good socks for our soldiers.
I don't regret that for a second.

You gave the cause all. And now they'll let you starve.
It sheds a low dishonor upon our high enterprise.

History and latter ages will whip 'em with it.
Ingratitude's a monster. And folks love
a good monster-show.

If I catch 'em first, I'll tan their asses
and pick their clicked wallets to the last centavo.
By my word, Tom, I will.

We'll spat first. After all, I'm a real bastard,
don't forget.

I will never forget you.  [Pause.]

Here I sway, myself a slender reed near under,
assailed by restless visions, atop my mass of swamp
and lurching as much as any church
from my crow's nest tip of tippling star-farsightedness;
yet out my mechanical uncertainty I'll fix up
a metronome of reform and dance its spectacular minuet
until all the thin paper-writ music is trashed
to my stamping, and then revives, recomposed as ashes!
Beyond this midnight miasma, past the trinking taunts
of revellers drunk in their assumptions
or dear friends ready to measure their coffin-acre
of sweet peace and lie quiet down until
(all egregious through torn lips) their skeleton-smiles
appear, I see a certain city arise, arise and assert itself
in the indefinate halo of a final outline
amidst this subtle shower of soft-starring sparks.
Amongst the plush pastures of memory, and still
here in this present dark of work and hope
I see a filiment-winsome construct of pure light arise
and flicker about me over the sussurations of these reeds.
O barbarous clearness in this evening's dark! I see
great cities of new men and new women, full of
free sex, free life, kindnesses, harlots and cymbals!
But of their dancing souls they have made no whores;
hazeless lightness and two million souls alight and free....
When morning's blue minute ticks over me, her hands
fallen gently upon my upward dreaming face,
her few, revolutionary rays tempt me from the haze,
her igniting light reviving the shapes of angels
in sculptured flight, cracked as this faint lake
in the river, whose soft sounds fall lonely and proud
on ears so attuned to softness, they seem of stone.
Tonight, the Alleghanies sharpen our idea of the sky,
and each unknown height we arise to lifts our expectations
higher than ever the simple fickle breeze allowed.
What pealing vistas now sound me out from core to pore,
each real thing I see sprouts me new inward eyes
to view the renewing of my own blue-black soul!
Tonight, newborn and pure, there are angels
in my heart's moist architecture. Hyped
on the hypnotic caliber of my ressurrected senses'
insistence to feel and be free, I spot about
and find myself the solo founding clown
of this: the uninheritable! A dynasty of wishes,
with each free man or woman their own subaltern of want,
the maker of their own aching,
              where the capacity to make
tidal-waves above our cloud-shrouded heads unimpeded!
The sea's free step mingles music with my quick swishes.
I am a pounding Poseidon commanding nothing
but the high wet wailing of my own hard-held heart,
a thing never suspected before in history!
Now, and for the first time (ever!) we arise aroused---
unknown music vibrates in booming theaters of real sound;
our bones flare out in trumpet-expectation. Shall
we squeal revealed, and arise in no reprise, but first
and then forever, born unchristened and new? Hopes dome
a billion glass minarets of spinaretted thinking.
My tongue injects the sky; each soveriegn tongue
carols its own beloved self-knowingness into new skies,
each cry an alternate universe electrified to life!
We walk amazed, with new muds upon us, of new births,
new daring, new enterprise, new eyes staring to new noons;
forever unsettled in our wish to wish again.

Ah, yes, yes, Tom, how could any world deny you
her churn of womb as genesis-crucible
for such fierce dreaming?
I pray I don't see this infernal globe decompose
to such an eviscerate, infertile dryness, friend.
A few brief, blind sighs bind us to this life;
and oh if those sighs moaned out all meaningless,
how could I even in this accident be reconciled to live?
My eyes take leave of their dryness once again;
I'll baptismal your departing hope
with their wet graces. And now you transfigure
each dark thing with such a harnassed wash
of wanting, Tom. The light, the light!
I am diamond-shot with stardust.
Only our awkward continent's tough, abrupt newness
can shove above the watermark as mountain enough
for the discovering blues of your high-stepping eye.
I myself love the unlevelled tripping of your whim.
I myself feel somewhat more guyed and bouyed
toward the honeyed fire-frets and fangles of the sky
than I had been before in my drowsy daze of peace.
Yet still, I think, I'll stay here, and if
your iron bridge steps you to a wider France
where armed Liberty in her brightened gown contests
Champagne plains with Kings, and her blooming bubbles
are all of vilest violet blown from bleeding mouths,
as restless then as my self-imposed repose
shall then become, still I'll stay here and endure
an unmourning peace, nor moult a doublet
of fresh eagle feathers for my mounting spirit
but stay here by my doughty rounded hill
and look up at our old stars
in dewy-new happiness still.

Let us harnass our unmarked stars tonight
and rip the quiescent swamp with light,
as we've made this empty outlined nation
take our chosen colors of the limitless.

Torches aloft!

[They raise their rasping torches on the quiet set.]

    Liberty Tree, o Liberty Tree
    What ye are ye know well, but oh,
    What ye mean to be!
    Listen, flusterless swans of the swamp!
    Oh hear the tale, hear!
    Never was one so drear,
    Of how all the tyrranical powers,
    Kings, Commons, Lords and sours,
    United on the hour
    And at one stroke
    Had thought to choke
    Our Liberty Tree, our Liberty Tree.

    But then, and then, hee hee!
    From North to South
    Called the trumpet's mouth
    And when we'd gathered
    With ourselves in a lather
    We united on the hour
    With all of our power
    And far and near
    Conjoined at a cheer
    In defense of our Liberty Tree!

You do make the worst ditties, Tommy.

PAINE  [Picking a fight.]
Take your teeth out and say that!

If I take my teeth out now, it'll be
to keep myself from biting your fool head off.

PAINE  [Shrugs.]
The marshlights are coming up
in a uniform blue to the left there. See ye?

I see. A soft spot of color on the eye.

Let us conclude the experiment.

We heave ourselves beyond experience with this!

[They throw their torches in high arcs that fall in a swale
of light into the soon-blooming swamp. The swamp catches fire.]

Everything is illumination in God's suspiring fire.



WASH speaks of death-fears. Paine replys:
These irrational itchings are as nothing
to my sainted clarity; my clear cerebration
shall not scab its supple greys with superstition.

Like Pericles, I shall not perish from my time
but live on, an ever-ringing voice of high snap,
regular to the regular folks, a jolt
to those nuzzle-nursed on the old fogy ideas dead-past,
accepted ways batted into raw heads and kept
out of tired habit and petty custom for the sake
of that nappy slap-happy pontifex, Farce.
Today I shall wowingly reimagine my swatted world
and its crookedly connived constitution with truth's force;
divinity, with a little human imagination,
can get the job done. I shall dance to my own tough
and jangled, mangling jingle,
              ice skate over the void,
here in the sweet salt aftermath of creation, my own,
the sweated spray every individual makes and spades from torpor,
his own mossy square acre of oceanic freedom.
Only Poseidon, of the old gods, stood by Prometheus
as I recall, the welter salt spray of water okaying
the backdraft spread of the englightened flame;
he saw their realms as mutually imperishable, no doubt,
the flounce and rash flash of flame no threat
to the underwater underworld wavery haze-vision of Neptune's
misted mirth, the roly-poly water god girdled
in frowning sea-coral fronds and crowned with a spiked squid
petrified by the old wet man's honor in choosing it
from his wonderous habidashery. Ai! Electric eels squeeled
in dry delight at Prometheus, friend of the free--
they, whose dear god took every shape and sweated ecstatic
up to heaven to weep back down in the ramming rain.
I am wild lightning in those black swells, and a fire
on the highlands of this first and best time of men!
These are the times....
I shall orate an augerful of frothing truth
and not swallow back a word while I live!
This dirty tent, thrashed in the back-sizzle of new hail,
tied frozen down in these grimy woods,
here's a place to lay sweet newness on the earth,
inaugurate a heart to the swift weird will of one,
here's a place, an altar of activity to actively
announce my grown tough truth, a fabled place, perhaps,
where future disaster or glory laps at circumstance
and sheer human will overturns all the tides that meet!
Ha ha! I in my mock coracle-cockle will toss the turbulence
in my humanly mouthed direction on towards perfection,
and not drop dropsey-sick into the old worm trails
that so lovingly lattice the past with irking defeats,
the benighted unlightedness of my predecessors.
What have they ever lived to light their way to
besides death and the present tyranny?
This present tyranny and trumpeting injustice that makes me
curl curdled against it and call to the remote sky:
I must! I must! Can Justice exist when all are not free
to imagine it into some hammered shape of perfection?
Come rain, come storm, come snow,
   withering blizzrd or puffing drift,
      I see the forecasted crests' shapes
and do not spurn my own straightness of purpose!
I'll knock at the tent-- and may that tent let me enter!
   [Crowing:] I've come! I've come! I've come!

If an upright fellow speaks low, why the poor word's
discredited and given some high sheen of his
moral height and more sober quality, against
the insistence of its syllable; and if a man,
a base, a twisted, a poor and lunatic soul
to whom the phasing moon is monitor and mirror
of his unsteady moods and inconstant thoughts,
backlighting the weird proceedings of his strange eye
turned blank inward on a sick imagination,
if such a man, a vile, distemperate wretch
should speak in clear ululation, as even
the reckoning of God on his last Judgement Day
(when all is overtaken by his mystery of mercy)
would have all men speak, in accents to shame the angels
with his bright crystal syllables and sweet tricks,
why then the very heavens themselves take a taint,
a very palpable taint, from his silent loud-spoken
bastardry. His very perfidy will roar him down,
though he sing a hummingbird to stillness.
No matter how clean, no matter how absent of evil
go his words to their intended hearts
they shall inherit an afterburn all of black
and burnt miming umber umbrage by his stooping use
of those chosen words, and not others, those words
until all that was thought fit for tender human ears
is blasted, blocked, confounded, drowned in deaf tones,
poured void upon the incomprehension of the world,
erased from the tight mating poets crave
of sound and sense. The entire penning tenor
of my trial of life is to the language of its use
blameless stranger in this respect, and pleads in tongues
a real nearness at the docket of the hours every day,
a nice binding of human man and mouth-motion
which no other ordination I know of so obdurately requires.