Christina Mengert

Definitions

after Spinoza

I.

That which is self causes

the mouth to turn in us

I mean that essence

of landscape when the interior

yawns                  existence, that nature

baked hard            as fossils

our diffusion only conceivable            if you spread

yourself into it, like light

into ground, into water                  this reflection

as existent as your lily pad hands.

 

II.

A thing is called infinite

after dark          &  kind when limited

by edge, another

space of the same nature

(if there is a thought
to be weighed, it’s in your hands,
your sleepy, Dutch eyes)

for instance, a body is called

death when it is swung wide open

and finite because we always conceive

when we are least expecting, when

our eyes wander

the landscape of another

greater body. So, too, a thought

(I see you standing there,
back against the fire)

is limited by another thought, but a body

even his            even yours

is not limited by thought

nor a thought by body

 

III.

By substance I mean that

climbing            angling animal

which is wild in itself, pure

momentum            and caused

through the impulse

of impulse

and conceived through

a nest of boxes

geological shelves            here

was this rock, this hand            this

bright burning sun

 

in other words, we are among other things

a conception

and can be formed independently

of any other conception

 

IV.

By attribute I mean            the feature

without which a bird is not

a bird, is            a crocodile, a carousel

red top spun on a white plastic table

that which the intellect perceives

by virtue of mental trampoline,

bouncing into idea as a consequence

of grace, my feet in your hands

my body thrown            as if

constituting essential substance

 

V.

By mode I mean            there are many rooms

in this house, and we dress them
differently;                  the modifications

of substance              feeling a way

the slow crawl of being            genealogy pitched

on its hind legs            a calf unfolding

and you, a philosopher loafing in the grass

until it stands            an intelligence

conceived through something

more itself

than itself.

 

VI.

By God I mean our symbols

exhausted                  you say

a being            that is

absolutely infinite            that is

a recursion of meaningful geometry

a substance of infinite attributes

we regard like an infant regarding

its mysterious watery hand

of which each digit expresses

an extension, a greeting

(hello, here, please)

eternal and infinite essentiality

the striving manifest

explanation—

 

I say absolutely infinite

considering how small the eye

of any mind

not infinite after its kind

and now

for a thing infinite only after

you raze it            raising

 

its kind, infinite attributes

a splintered mirror we call God—

this may be denied

but the wide eyes of your voice climb

a ladder of formal certitude:

the absolutely infinite contains

in its essence whatever

expresses reality and involves no

negation

 

VII.

That thing is called free

when it pivots

both light and
its refraction, existing solely

by virtue of virtue

the necessity of likeness, likening

this analogy to one’s

own reflected nature
like a dancing fish,

by which action is determined
currently—

on the other hand that thing

is scaled            necessary,

or rather constrained          which clocks

its choreography in rivers

determined by something

like abandoned nets

external to the flopping fish

catching itself in            a fixed and definite

hook we call

method of existence or action

 

VIII.

By eternity I mean where

might you go and when

might you return

existence suspended like

a photograph that never fails

to regard itself, though

in reality, everything goes on

around the frame

forming and reforming today

Dutch tomorrow something else insofar as

geography is conceived

as necessarily meaningful

to follow in your
light, wooden shoe steps

solely from the definitions

we carve

in the burning walls of oblivion

of that which is wrested from

eternal explanation

existence of this kind

extension into world

(wrangling a tea pot, felling a spider)

conceived as an eternal stop-gap

 

call it truth like the dissolution

of idea, the essence of a thing—

the photograph, and the child

dancing around it

therefore cannot be explained by

the writing on the wall, whatever

means of continuance we establish

for ourselves, or time though continuance

(like thought) may be conceived without

(you know)            a beginning or an end.

Artist’s Statement

I built this poem out of Spinoza’s definitions in his Ethics, integrating his language into the poem, sometimes trading lines with him, sometimes weaving his language into mine, or mine into his.

Christina Mengert is the author of As We Are Sung (Burning Deck) and coeditor of 12×12: Conversations in 21st-Century Poetry and Poetics (University of Iowa Press). A contributor to Tarpaulin Sky, Tupelo Quarterly, Web Conjunctions, and other publications, Mengert is also a filmmaker, editor, and faculty for the Bard College Prison Initiative.
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About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis (susanlewis.net) is the editor of Posit (positjournal.com) and the author of eight books and chapbooks, including This Visit (Blazevox, 2015), How to be Another (Cervena Barva Press, 2014), and State of the Union (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2014). Her ninth book, Heisenberg’s Salon, is available now for pre-order from Blazevox. Her poetry has appeared in such places as The Awl, Berkeley Poetry Review, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Cimarron, Gargoyle, The Journal, The New Orleans Review, Prelude, Raritan, Seneca Review, So to Speak, Verse, and Verse Daily.