I think so much about this song, all the time. It’s not just the way that women’s suffering and death gets turned into art that gets enjoyed (and by me, too, I’m not letting myself off the hook) with no regard for the women at the center of it. It’s the idea of someone going and getting these women. If I think about it too much, it makes me cry, the idea that there is someone who recognizes that something bad has happened and who goes and gets them. Even though they’re dead. This getter doesn’t let them get lost.
I think a lot about who would go get those girls. Who could see a folk song for what it is, know what it means to have your tragic loss made into someone else’s campfire sing-along. Who is strong enough to go song by song–Delia, the Knoxville Girl, the Wexford Girl, that girl behind you not being able to “forget the day I shot that bad bitch down?” She had a name, you know, that bad bitch, in earlier versions–Sadie. The girl in the willow garden. So very many of them.
I think it’s Polly, who picked up John Henry’s hammer after he died and drove steel like a man. Who else could be up for the job?
I had this idea while I was sick of a cult developing around Polly, who would greet each other when they were doing their cultish deeds with “By the name of Polly Anne.” Maybe they all wear tiny sledgehammer pendants and that’s how they recognize each other.
But I didn’t know what to do with the idea. Or at least, I don’t yet.