In her head she sings Happy Birthday twice

whenever scrubbing, allegro, with vigor.

Front and back from fingertips to wrists is right


before intimacies. She watches, lingers

at the bathroom doorway while you rinse

eager, thick as tar, from your hands into the sink


the yearning faded below your gut, since

she says palms are poison, transferees of germs,

unholies reaching to do harm. Though once


perhaps a year before, she begged you to play her,

body pale as ivories stretched eighty-eight wide,

pianissimo, soft, very soft, softer


still. Let you touch the dark places.

Illuminate the shadowed corners of her, crescendo,

without protest. Loosen buttons. Laces


knotted tightly now, constricted as pizzicato.

In her mind she sings Happy Birthday twice

hums aloud as you wash again, but of course

front and back from fingertips to wrists is right

A seasoned writer and life-long resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Rebecca Clever has served as a contributing reporter, community newspaper editor, columnist, promotional and technical writer, and managing book editor & designer. Her poetry, nonfiction and interviews have been published in various newspapers, literary journals and anthologies. In addition to receiving a Pushcart Prize nomination, she is the first recipient of the Laurie Mansell Reich poetry award, co-sponsored by the Academy of American Poets and Chatham University, was a quarter-finalist for the 2012 Nimrod Literary Awards Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, and is a past nominee for the AWP Intro Journals Project. Rebecca graduated from Chatham in 2011 with an MFA in Creative Writing, where she was a finalist for best thesis.


“Terzanelle for OCD,” unfortunately, or fortunately, was the result of personal experience; a narrative product of inspiration from pain. It was not originally written as a strict traditional form poem. Rather, it started as a four stanza group of slant-rhyme couplets that was submitted for a Saturday morning writing workshop session with a group of fellow Chatham University grad school Alums. The timing in which the piece was composed was shortly after the end of a 3+ year romantic partnership. I’d written the poem, the workshop group critiqued it, and then it sat in a drawer full of my unfinished poems with comments and suggestions penned on it for over a year, maybe because the close of the relationship was still too fresh. During that shut-in-the-drawer period, I thought of the poem once in a while and at some point, determined that the subject matter—Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder—which can entail hypersensitivity to a set of rigid rules or rituals, begged for tighter structural constraints. Over the years of writing poems I’d attempted traditional forms that didn’t always work, including Villanelles, but a Terzanelle was brand new to me and seemed appropriate for this poem. I’m pleased it has found a home.




Copyright 2009