Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Prayer to St. Roch, patron of plague sufferers  

Jack Coulehan
Stony Brook, New York


Painting of St. Roch displaying plague buboe
San Roque. Francisco Ribalta, between circa 1600 and circa 1610. Museu de Belles Arts de València. Via Wikimedia.


Please take your work to the next step, 

St. Roch, beyond being a friendly ghost 

to the lost. Bring us back from the edge.  


Pour out the healing grace of your touch 

at a distance, if possible. We beg you. 

Believe me, the people are skeptical.  


Continue making the sign of the cross 

to heal us, but add Islam’s crescent, 

David’s star, the mudra of compassion.  


It won’t be easy for many of us 

to trust the intervention of a saint. 

We’ve embraced the lure of miracles 


like medications and vaccines 

since you did yours, but if you try, 

if you open your arms to all of us 


without distinction—to the frightened 

and weak, the sturdy and confident, 

the traumatized and sick—


the blessing might come back,  

and the plague succumb.  




JACK COULEHAN is an Emeritus Professor of Medicine and former Director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University. Jack’s essays, poems, and stories appear frequently in medical journals and literary magazines, and his work is widely anthologized. He is the author of seven collections of poetry, including The Talking Cure: New and Selected Poems (Plain View Press, 2020).



Summer 2020  |   Sections  |  Poetry

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.