John Fenlon Hogan
from His Autobiography (p. 57)
…and though I knew I possessed the vanity necessary to run
a marathon, practicality would never allow me to endure
the task without turning a profit. That’s the issue: I was
a man attempting to paint a world in which he believed
he had no stake, earning humility with the kind of humiliations
that only vanity had to offer. I was another man
maxing out his 401(k), deriving a sort of pleasure
from cross-checking volumes of weekly specials grocers
were wont to offer, convinced that he wouldn’t spend
his savings where he was, inevitably, going. Long nights spent
poring over spreadsheets. In absence of feeling: data. The data
began to make noises, take on voices, until he found his office
a crowded place. Dave Robinson told him that he custodied
his assets with Reincarnation Bank, unable to recover them
upon reentry. A stock-broker named Marilyn Keyes was crying
because she lost $1.2 billion—accounting for 4783 households—
on mortgage-backed securities. The cries of those households
were audible as well: a woman raiding her daughter’s jam-jar
savings in a hopelessly logical response to insolvency; a man
who parleyed his fraternal bonds only to be severed
from the family on short notice; another man telling his wife
he loves her soooo much, as if the emphasis of extra oh
had an effect. J.P. Morgan made his first fortune buying
5000 defective rifles from Hall’s Carbine at $3.50 a unit.
He resold them to a Union field-general in dire need for $20 a piece,
but did not wait to witness the soldiers’ thumbs explode
upon assault, their fumbles to recover their belongings. Their cries
filled the room. He could see mute hands, fallibly grasping.
And then the small businesses: telegrams to the afterlife,
drive-thru daiquiris, drive-thru strip joints, neck-tie rentals,
testicular implants for pets lacking self-esteem. The data was
endless, insurmountable. All the ideas of a body politic lacking
a way such that the only way seemed to be any which way.
There was his mother in her dead mother’s mink coat,
fondling European desires. There was his father slipping
the water from Lourdes into the sippy cup of the boy
with leukemia, whose parents were such staunch atheists
they organized. His father with his Pentecostal dreams!
There was the panhandler he passed, daily, as if a ghost.
There, his ex-girlfriend standing in the rain with the child
she aborted. There was his own voice, or what had been
his own voice before he began to talk to himself
as a stranger. There, too, was nothing: the failed ventures,
the prayers returned to sender, the platitudes, the statements
of false lovers, the idols, unnecessary meetings, days spent
with no ones, emptiness itself—particular, unrelenting.
He learned it all. The reality of data. The fact of data.
The absurdity of data. Because he had to. Because he had
to know what he had to forget in order to go on
forgetting. And he did. And afterwards he still wanted
everything, but he wanted it with eleven minutes to spare,
because anything else was not his own, and anything else
left inconclusive that question at the root
of every question—the longing to know what mattered
more: that which had happened, or that which hadn’t.
John Fenlon Hogan
John Fenlon Hogan lives in Virginia and works in finance and real estate. His poems are forthcoming in Boston Review, Minnesota Review, Notre Dame Review, and elsewhere.