Skip to main content

Saint Louis University Header Logo Center

Menu Search & Directory

Creativity in Crisis: Poetry by Cary Barney


SLU-Madrid faculty are transforming introspection during the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought normal daily life in Madrid and places around the world to a halt into expressions of creativity. In the Creativity in Times of Crisis series, SLU-Madrid faculty writers, painters, poets and more share the works of art they are creating during these difficult times.

English literature professor T. Ryan Day, Ph.D., has launched a city-wide initiative through his local publishing house, Lemon Street Press. They are collecting creative works by quarantined artists across Madrid to publish in the Madrid Quarantine Anthology. Proceeds from the anthology will be donated to charitable efforts addressing the needs of families in Madrid and throughout Spain who have fallen victim to COVID-19.
Cary Barney, MFA, program director for fine and performing arts, kicked off SLU-Madrid’s Creativity in Times of Crisis with two poems, written from his home as he follows stay-at-home orders.  

Nightly Applause

The inspiration for Barney's first poem comes from the nightly, city-wide applause from Madrid residents who step out onto their balconies or lean through their windows at 8 p.m. to applaud the health care workers who are tirelessly fighting COVID-19. 

The ravine walls of opposite blocks
open to life: faces, hands of unknown neighbors
spring from nests, homes made monastic cells,
rooms we’ve been sent to for quiet time,
and from each sealed-off existence
unite in applause for doctors, nurses, orderlies,
for ambulances racing up the avenue below,
for med students pressed into service
before an avalanche of suffering,
the advancing wall of death
we ask them to hold back from us.
The whistles, shouts, ¡Bravos!, ¡Vivas!, rise
into the deep blue auditorium of evening
where Venus and a sliver of moon
gaze bright and blank at us,
transient inhabitants of their fellow planet.
I want the applause to reach them,
wake these dead worlds’ ears
to what they miss by being stones,
the desperate tragic beauty we’ve risen to,
the hope that is our lifeblood,
a small flame blazing audacious
before the indifference of night.

could we rise from our sickbed
to a world cured of its viruses,
the poisons
that have seeped and tunneled
into its sentient tissues
to madden its brain,
calcify its heart,
murder it
in the sleep of its unreason,
money lust
driving it to suicide
before market bulls,
erupting into blame,
numbing it to cruelty,
of plain truth, lulling it
to the siren song of idiocy,
turning it in all directions
from the clarity of need?
What vaccine
could dissolve the walls
that make us pathogens
against the larger body?
could we wake to find
it’s finally immune?