“The John Ford Chapel” — a poem by Harry Northup

Harry Northup’s decades of acting in films directed by some of the canonical directors of the past one hundred years, including Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme, has provided him other rewards than just a gratifying career replete with admiration for his skill in embodying characters on the screen. He now lives at MPTF, a very well-tended residential facility in Woodland Hills that accommodates retired actors, cinematographers, directors, editors, and the myriad technical assistants whose efforts and life-long commitment to the art of cinema have made Los Angeles the center of that culture industry. For years, Harry has additionally been a member of the Motion Picture Academy, and from comments he has made about the amount of time needed to view the films up for award consideration, I know that he takes the responsibility of his franchise very seriously.

Harry is also one of the most widely respected poets working in Los Angeles, although he is very modest about that well-earned appreciation. Fortunately, his devotion to poetry has found an outlet in the production resources made available to those living at MPTF. “Harry’s Poetry Hour, Creative Chaos MPTF,” is streamed live on an on-campus Channel 1390/9996 to the residents’ & staff’s TV screens as well as broadcast through the internet. His guests on the show have included dozens of contemporary poets, who read both their own work as well as the work of other poets. Recently, Harry featured Iris Cushing, the daughter of co-featured poet James Cushing, with whom Harry established Cahuenga Press along with Cecilia Woloch, Phoebe MacAdams, and Harry’s late spouse, the poet Holly Prado. This is hardly the first time that Harry has curated a poetry reading series. He was the founder of the important reading series at Gasoline Alley coffeehouse on Melrose Avenue in the late 1980s, which kept the focus on poets in Los Angeles at a time when Beyond Baroque had diluted its emphasis on poets in favor of presenting more prose writers.

Harry continues to write new poems, one of which was recently installed on site at the very topic of the poem: The John Ford Chapel at MPTF. Ford, it turns out, is Harry’s favorite American director. The poem, however, is not an homage to “Stagecoach” or “The Searchers.” Instead, it is a prayer of enfolding gratitude. I, for one, am grateful that Harry has given me permission to reprint it.

May you be able to repeat the words out loud, in the chapel of your heart, as you read his poem a second and third time.


No roses on bushes outside chapel
A simple, almost New
England place
Three stained glass windows
floor to ceiling
Ten wooden pews with long,
Beige pillows tied at one end
Blue carpet, a place to pray
I pray for continuity,
breath, line, devotion
I pray for understanding
to learn to forgive those hungry,
ambitious souls who see not others
I pray for the health of my neighbors
I give thanks for their generous spirits
I pray to be a good person
& not offend others
I pray to departed love
& the chapel bells startle me
eleven times
I ask to recognize times
to see others in a more human array
I pray for forgiveness
for my limited vision
I pray to see the white wings
in sunshine which hold both death & love



Harry Northup is the author of over a dozen collections of poetry, including “Enough the Great Running Chapel” (Momentum Press, 1982); and “The Ragged Vertical” (1996), “Reunions” (2001), and “East Hollywood: Memorial to Reason” (2015), all of which are from Cahuenga Press. His most recent book is “Love Poets to MPTF.” His poems have also appeared in ten anthologies, most recently BEAT, NOT BEAT, edited by Rich Ferguson and published by Eric Morago’s Moontide Press.

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