Skip to main content

poetry I Tell My Son To Cover Himself in Someone Else’s Blood

Grief, anxiety of more to come, infiltrates an ordinary family in Rachel Mallalieu’s poem.

I Tell My Son to Cover Himself in Someone Else’s Blood

By Rachel Mallalieu


Last night, I told my son

that if he sees a shooter coming, he needs to

hide in a file cabinet or underneath

a covered table.

If he’s in the bathroom, he should

stand on the toilet and lock the stall door.

If you like this article, please sign up for Snapshot, Portside's daily summary.

(One summary e-mail a day, you can change anytime, and Portside is always free.)

If there’s nowhere to go,

I asked him to paint

himself with someone else’s

blood and play


Give him a break my husband murmured.

Let him relax a bit.

Simon needed extra prayers

at bedtime.

Say my name out loud.

Tell God to keep me safe, or at least

don’t let him come while I’m in art

class. During shooter drills,

my teacher forgot to lock

the door and the window is too big

to cover with paper.

I smoothed the circles under

his eyes while I begged God

to keep him here, with me.

Today, the forest is a cathedral

and cedar trees waft incense.

The blossoms are a riotous crowd

—tulip poplars, mountain laurel,

dogwoods and wisteria.

The “About Me” poster outside

Simon’s fourth grade

classroom says he loves our dog

Theo and tacos.

His favorite color is green.

He wants to be a doctor.

The trees hush the sirens

and only the flowers hear the

whispered coda to my prayer.

If he comes, God, and Simon

can’t hide, please

please God,


     let me be there too.

The blooms, mute gods, bend

their faces toward my cries

and promise


Rachel Mallalieu is an emergency physician and mother of five. She writes poetry in her spare time. Rachel is the author of A History of Resurrection (Alien Buddha Press 2022). Some of her recent work is featured or forthcoming in Nelle, Tribes, Dialogist, Rattle and elsewhere. More of her poetry can be found at