Two Plum-wild Poems

Wild plum (Prunus americana) at the end of August in Saunders County, Nebraska. Photo by Neal Ratzlaff.

Slightly Bitter Rounds of Being by Jack Phillips*

Time picks up speed as it rounds the corner hopeful at once a little sad not to mourn the closing in of autumn but for another orbit come and almost gone. Thoreau gets credit for to drink of every season (as still he dominates kitchen calendars) but daily we live the lay of the land take nature in the raw let us write our own lines to swing the summer round keep the marble rolling under our feet, the purplish fruits of being a little bitter today but always worth the bite. 

Prunus americana, Boone County Nebraska. (Robert Smith.)

*The poem above is a prose poem — a 19th-Century hybrid poetic form that allows the reader to make breaks in line and rhythm. Chelsea’s poem below is lined free-verse, a form that allows the breaks and spaces to multiply layers of meaning. In each case we invite you, dear reader, to write these poems with us in the ways that you bite and savor them. Both of these poems were composed with our mouths full of wild plums on a late summer saunter. Find wild fruits to flavor your eyes and tongues but only taste a few and leave the rest to nourish the wild.

Round and Round

Black Elk’s vision as told to John Neihardt colors the cosmos in yellow and blue, red and white — round corners of the Sacred Hoop — and Native American medicine wheels throughout. These sacred colors imbue the spiritual imagination of our planet and brighten our local woods and haunts. And when the morning reflects and our celestial orb rounds just so, we get purples and oranges and hues in between.

Gray hairstreak on bee-balm at Pahaku, sacred Pawnee site in Eastern Nebraska. Photo by Neal Ratzlaff.

And sometimes the Sacred Hoop makes a garden. The Naturalist School celebrated Neihardt Day where Joelle Sandfort and I read our Sacred Hoop poems in the garden designed by Neihardt himself. The hoop is cosmic and ever local, never bound by present time and space, but always found in the present. Find it where wildly you walk.

Round and round, 

Jack Phillips   

Jack and Joelle were joined by Tree Keeper Rocco Stormberg Hinrichs for Neihardt Day. Photo by Robert Smith.

Read more about TNS at the Neihardt Center here:

Mesodon Dances

Mesodon thyroidus in a riparian ravine in Saunders County Nebraska. Video by Troy Soderberg.


The cosmos dances a secret dance and sometimes we catch a glimpse. But you have to be open to seeing it and of course, spend some early mornings in a meadow or in the wooded wild. Go.


Jack Phillips

Comes with Thumbs

Plestiodon septentrionalis, northern prairie skink in Saunders County Nebraska on July 6th, 2021. Photo by Neal Ratzlaff.

Hysterical Wounds of Wonder*

Something makes a rustle a fox (silently most usually slinks) or a toadlet barely a tadpole fantasy a poet folding a scrap of a poem or dryad shifting her saddle or ancestor spirits coming home late (did someone lose a lens cap) the weight of sketch in a notebook or sound of slowly days getting shorter but wait (!) a little lizard a shiny-stripe slither those tiny hands they even have thumbs. Herptile delights usually draw me in but I learned in my youth that hysterical skinks will cast their writhing tails at the gentlest gesture (maimed and scarred and ever to bear the wounds of my wonder) and earth-loving grows with every footstep lighter.

*Prose poem by Jack Phillips

Mouth of Summer

Wilder friends, one of my favorite poems of the summer is A New Language by Casandra Lopez. It holds the phrase:

…back to longer days when:
Ocean is the mouth
of summer….

But presently having no ocean here only the vestige of our primordial sea we look to a pond or tadpole puddle or to the celestial seas on heavenly bodies born on tender stems, solstice or the super-moon of June.

Open wide.

Jack Phillips

TNS Earth-house retreat just before the summer solstice in Fremont County Iowa. Photo by Kathryn Sutko Twit with students from College of St. Mary.

Top: Cephalanthus occidentalis on the solstice, Washington County Nebraska. Photo by Troy Soderberg.

Try This in Your Navel?

Members of the genus Sarcoscypha have sometimes been ground and stuffed into belly-buttons. In Wales they eat them. But where will the sprites and spirits collect the morning dew? Better to admire Sarcoscypha occidentalis as a late spring delight — resting on a log under tanager songs and maybe write a poem if one comes along. That’s how we do it. — Jack Phillips

Photo by Robert Smith, late May in the oak-hickory forest in Fremont County, Iowa.

Crazy on Foot

Canis latrans travels wild pathways invisible to us but older than our presence here. Coyote sightings have recently increased around Omaha, but they have been here longer than we. Photo by Troy Soderberg, Washington County.

Crazy on Foot (prose poem by Jack Phillips)

Omaha stands where an oak-hickory woodland once stood where Maple Street crosses a sylvan meander no one seems to notice where the long-ago living here wore no clothing or scant and yet 911 was flooded when someone wandered naturally into traffic and I wondered how he got here or more importantly where he is going (and what about us) perhaps a vestigial leak of an older self an oaken ghost being cut and laid bare (the bipedal zygote of Gaia) some refugee god in pedestrian flesh. Going native is almost as shocking as going on foot better get to the woods whilst no one is watching. 

Wild spirits in human form on a TNS retreat along the East Nishnabotna River. Such sightings are rare unless you know where to look.

Dicentra Meditations

Submit to the sweet the savage beauty of this world now is the time.

(American sentence by Jack Phillips, a form of haiku originated by the poet Allen Ginsberg. *Dicentra cucullaria with ant struggling in a spider’s web along the East Nishnabotna River, photo by Becky Colgrove.)

Mystic Spirals

Bluestem Lake

Leaf buds unwrap mystic gifts and in my life unfolding, there is also that unnameable pattern

spiraling out, sending sacred stretches towards the burning sun

Turning to it, I gather a beam of light

The moment of now runs away as I search out some lasting thing, knowing too well that all things erode

Poem by Joelle Wellansa, Naturalist-in-Residence

Photos by Troy Soderberg (top) and Robert Smith.

Ephemeral spiral in a winter ravine. Photo by Billie Shelton.