'There are two literary quartets alluded to is this poem. There's a quotation from the Alexandra Quartet, and a quotation from T.S. Eliot'
Attitudes of Prayer
After Beethoven, Quartet in C sharp minor, Op 131
One hundred and thirty-one approaches
to the problem of God.
over and over
rehearsing what you don’t know,
Letting yourself transcribe
what no-one’s said before –
in your greatcoat,
in the freezing study
where you take bitter tobacco and coffee.
Occasionally, through the pall of tinnitus, hearing –
I feel as if heaven lay close upon the earth
and I between them both,
breathing through the eye of a needle.
Grey on grey, grey annealing grey,
except light, catching the high
notes of a fiddle
(quick quick said the bird):
like smoke on the window.
Light glints on a door-handle,
draws parallels on the carpet.
When you were a child
those voices in another room seemed far off.
Under the covers, in darkness
you drew your knees up to your chin.
Lamplight on skin, on a polished table:
laughter lit up your mother’s voice.
It made you think of honey;
like the muntjac you see sometimes
browsing beyond the Service Station –
caught on pause
before neural pathways catch
and it flickers off
like something you can almost taste
but are afraid to;
into shadows and trees.
Light against dark. The way you remember Nazareth –
the cave house
in the basement of its hanger-church
and the meal at a long table,
where the light from arched windows
each dish – a basket of pitta, long-leaved lettuce,
pastel swirls of hummus and tahini –
clear as a still life.
from Common Prayer (Carcanet , 2007), © Fiona Sampson 2007, used by permission of the author and Carcanet Press Ltd