photograph by Lori Faith, www.photographybyfaith.com

 

About Deanna Dickinson McCall
Poems
Book and Recordings
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Contacting Deanna Dickinson McCall

Deanna McCall's web site

About Deanna McCall

Deanna McCall is a fifth-generation rancher who was raised in the northern California foothills.  She spent 22 years ranching and raising her family on a remote Nevada ranch and is currently ranching in New Mexico. She writes from the view of daughter, hand, wife and mother.  

She has been featured at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, the Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering in Prescott, and at other gatherings and events throughout the West. Her poetry is included in the anthologies Cowgirl Poetry and Cowboy Poetry: The Reunion.

Poet Audrey Hankins has compared her writing to "...jerky, fat dried out by the land leaving lean lines dried to the essence of verbal nutrition" (see more of her comments below).


2009 photograph by Lori Faith, www.photographybyfaith.com
 

Recipient of the Western Music Association
first annual Georgie Sicking Award, 2014

Poems

Old Ones

The Hired Hand

Hot Iron

Gifts in the Hay  separate page

Feral Words

Cow Country Code

Advice

Ice Flowers

Sacramento Mountain Spirits

For Rusty

Old Corrals

The Good Years

McGregor

 

Old Ones

Before most life begins to stir
The music of bit and spur
Would sound and carry on
In the early light before dawn.

Voices floated on the air
Like a melody hung there
Soft Texas drawls
Held in by canyon walls.

The Old Ones readied to ride
Grass ropes coiled at their sides
Split reins in gloved hands
They rode for their own brand.

On strong horses they rode away
Into the foothill mist of day,
I cried in vain for them to wait
As they trotted out the gate.

They turned and I saw their eyes
And knew this was the final goodbye
Dad and Granddaddy riding away
Me pleading for them to stay.

With my heart pounding
I heard their words sounding
And felt the crash in my chest
As mere words pierced my breast.

I woke with deep regret
Soaked with stale sweat
For they had spoken true
And I knew what I must do.

The Old Ones were gone again
The last of clan and kin
Men of horses and stock
My shield and my rock.

Their message was clear
"Go on without fear"
.They had taught me well
And in my heart would dwell.

We still run a cow outfit
And all the old ways still fit
In a different land and time
Taught by the Old Ones of mine.

Before most life begins to stir
The music of bit and spur
Sounds and carries on
In the early light before dawn.

© Deanna Dickinson McCall
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.



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The Hired Hand

We made a call to town
To have some help sent down
The horses and use were worn out
I even walked like I had gout.

They said they'd send a gal out
She knew what ridin' was about.
We agreed it would be all right
And she'd arrive that night.

After supper I heard a truck come in
And went to check the bunkhouse again.
I was surprised to find her there
It did kinda give me a scare.

Well, she was experienced all right
And I was grateful for the poor light.
She looked so old and poor
Standing slumped in that old door.

Her battered hat had a hole in the crown
And strands of dirty hair hung down
Over a face lined with dust and crud
That water would have turned to mud.

There was a tattered scarf round her neck
Her coat looked like she'd been in a wreck
One sleeve was torn halfway loose
Where feathers floated in search of the goose.

Just as I was about to voice my doubt
I let out a strangled shout
Recognition had come to me
And I tried to gather some dignity.

For all my fears had come true
And there wasn't a thing I could do
But slam that bunkhouse door
And not look in that damn mirror anymore!

© Deanna Dickinson McCall
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

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Hot Iron

Ropes and wood fire, total chaos abounds
Amid choking dust and deafening bawls
The call of "hot iron" clearly sounds.

There's babies and toddlers confined in truck beds
Three generations gathered to work today
And I still recall what the fourth and fifth said.

I remember Granddad, and my own Dad
As they quickly made their way to a calf
And the old familiar call makes me sad.

I hurry back to grab another iron fast
Only then do I realize the old call
Came from my own lips as it passed.

© Deanna Dickinson McCall
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

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Feral Words

     Feral words that demand freedom
Strain against the trap of my heart
     Wild eyed and stomping
They quiver, whirl and falsely start.
     They struggle in their confinement
Jostling, circling, they seek escape
     Round the perimeters
They somehow find form and shape.
     Feral words that demand freedom
Have charged and broken down the gate
     Bucking and snorting
They run blindly into their fate.
     A great abyss swallows them whole
They run through the bit and its pull
     Never to be seen again
Words escaped from a heart too full.

© 2007, Deanna Dickinson McCall
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

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Cow Country Code

I listened carefully, listened to directions
All based on recollections
Of cattle last seen, water and grass green.

His face was lined, lined from a lifetime
Of counting every nickel and dime
Worries and cares, hopes and prayers.

He'd outlived his child, outlived his wife
Seemed to have tired of life
After the stroke, spirit and body broke.

Drought had fallen, fallen heavy on the land
Grass replaced by piles of sand
Tanks lay long dry, under a blazing sky.

We prowled around, prowled for his cows
Swore to ourselves renewed vows
Of helping neighbors, and our free labor.

But, we faced mortality, faced our own years
And sought to appease our fears
Of growing old, and outfits sold.

Cattle were gathered, gathered and sorted
Numbers tallied and reported
We figured the amount, he was given the count.

It would be enough, would buy a place in town
To watch the sun go down
On a quiet street, with memories bittersweet.

His old hand shook, shook as the paper curled
That gave a dollar amount to his world
He took our word, couldn't really see the herd.

That tally he held, held with quiet pride
Was one time we all lied
We'd padded the count, added to the amount.

His cattle were thin, were rough and open
Hadn't calved like we were hopin'
We added a few, ours, and he never knew.

It was our raising, raised to do right
In the old days of black and white
No question of gray, only one right way.

We rode hard, hard and long all day
For something more valued than pay
A time honored code, for this we rode.

© 2008, Deanna Dickinson McCall
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

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Advice

The corrals were full enough to bust,
And we’d all had our share of dust.
But, we’d got all the pairs in
And the separating was about to begin.
Our new son-in-law was working the gate
Trying hard to discriminate
When an angry mama came charging up
Mad over the hold up.
Hearing the commotion I rode through the dust
And shared some advice he could trust,
“Son, don’t crowd her, whatever you do,
When her head is held high she’ll take the fence or you.”
Better off to just let stand, cool down a bit
She’s not afraid of horse or man, let her have her fit.
It’s Nature's way to attack or run, fear and anger is part of life.
I know it’s not exactly fun, but, remember she is your wife.”

© Deanna Dickinson McCall
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

"Advice," is included on The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Three.  

The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Three cover art is a photo of Deanna Dickinson McCall's grandfather, Texas cowboy Perry Preston ("P. P.") Dickinson, circa 1912. She comments about the photo:

The picture was a post card (that was quite a fad), of my grandfather Perry Preston Dickinson. He went by "P.P." He was born in Denton County, Texas in 1896 to a ranching family. He got itchy feet and rode to Arizona at the age of 12 and stayed there quite awhile. He "courted" my Granny back in Texas and had the card made for her. The picture was taken in the vicinity of Grand Canyon. It is signed "The 10X Bronc fighter," as he was  the rough string rider and was working on the 10X ranch at the time. (Men weren't boys for very long in those days!)  He was a great influence in my life and taught me many of the old stories, songs, and how to ride. He later was a Marshall and a special agent of the Texas Rangers.

This photo was featured in our Picture the West feature on November 13, 2006.

 


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Ice Flowers

With ragged fingernail I scrape
lacy swirls of ice from window
see cows in winter’s landscape
backs hunched, frosted white with snow
Waiting for me to feed them, I know.

Splash diesel on kindling splinters
wait, impatient for red glow
curse the cold and pain of winters
memories recalled from long ago
wakened by this new fallen snow.

Freezing winds twist and whittle
any warmth the sun can bequeath
leaving my bones bound and brittle
like frozen grass buried beneath
cured and preserved in its own sheath.

Slowly melting like daydreams
ice flowers slide down the window
The years do not change it seems
hungry cattle still wait in snow
Waiting for me to feed them, I know.

© Deanna Dickinson McCall
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

Deanna commented that she wasn't sure whether or not the recent winter Art Spur with Tim Cox' painting, "Hick's Hereford Heifers," helped inspire the poem.


"Hicks' Hereford Heifers" by Tim Cox 

She said that she had been working on it for a while, and talking with her friend and poet Audrey Hankins helped her to finish it. She says it was also inspired by finding herself alone at the ranch when this year's first heavy snow fell, and it brought "so much back...I used to spend weeks alone on the ranch in Nevada, doing everything that needed doing...."


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Sacramento Mountain Spirits

I roam these mountains searching for sign
Hoping to find favor from the divine
We paint our pots black and white
Grow our maize and crops in sight
Of our villages along the waterway
That diminishes even while we pray.

I roam these mountains in heavy armor
Proudly on horses—not a peon farmer
We ride to conquer and bring God’s word
To find riches and a trail for the herds
Destined for the Church at Santa Fe
Following the Sacramento on my way.

I roam these mountains on deerskin clad feet
Riding and looting, hunting for meat
Leading men dressed in blue places
Where cliffs end in towering spaces
With no fuel to burn, no water to drink
Where they will die, left to rot and stink.

I roam these mountains riding in deep shade
Following faint trails game have made
Making caches of cinch rings and stolen goods
In hidden camps deep in these woods
Always watching, wary of anyone I see
I am a wanted man and will never be free.

I roam these mountains tending cattle
Acknowledging they are not my chattel
Feeling the spirits of the tinctured past
Drifting by in roles eternally cast
Grateful for time allotted in this land
Rising above the glistening White Sand.

© 2010, Deanna Dickinson McCall
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

Deanna comments, "...when riding through these mountains I can literally feel their presence, on the wind, in the canyons...almost like riding into different atmospheres, in the literal sense. I have no doubt how New Mexico earned its name of being the 'Land of Enchantment.'"

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For Rusty

Silence that needs no filling, quiet with the soft plod
Smiles that don’t come easy, gestures answered with a nod
Circles made in a corral, saddles gathering fine dust
Walking on ground a chore, ride his horse he must.

Started out riding in front, little hands grabbing the horn
Sleeping most of the time, baby cowboy bred and born.
Rode some broncs in school, took his share of licks
Worked lots of cows, reins were his joy stick.

Pardner still knows him, horses don’t ever forget
Repertoire built by miles, sun up to sun set
There were others, he rode them, too
Switching their tails, they watch anew.

We’re riding today, side by side again
Making circles of old, riding in the pen.
Blessing and gifts, thankful to once again ride
January sun warm, my son at my side.

© 2011, Deanna Dickinson McCall
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.


This poem was written by Deanna Dickinson McCall in 2011 for her son, poet and reciter Rusty McCall. Sadly, Rusty McCall died August 31, 2013.
 

 

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Old Corrals

How many cattle? How many years?
How many men? Who were the pioneers?
That chose this place to gather stock?
To pen his herd or flock?

Who chose where the mountains bend and curve
Widening into a flat that would serve….
Where an ancient cottonwood stands guard
Of the river’s entry to the ranch yard?

When was the first post driven in this ground?
Did the canyon echo with the sound?
Picket posts hand hewn and wire laced
Pole gates with crude hardware placed.

How many light footed horses danced
Pirouetting and proud as they pranced
Tossing heads with shiny manes nostrils wide
At cattle with long horns and spotted hides?

How many cattle churned this soil
While ropes snaked out from their coil?
Were cinch rings used when they felt the need
Or did honor override their greed?

The old concho I clutch is a keepsake
Found this morning after daybreak
Under a cinch ring broken and black
Seeking a spotted cow’s track
Riding a horse with light dancing feet
Where the old corrals and mountains meet.

© 2012, Deanna Dickinson McCall
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

Deanna comments, "Our ranch is in a steep canyon that snakes through the Sacramento Mountains. Around the first bend from the ranch and its modern corrals made of oil field stock are the old corrals that sit on what is now New Mexico State land. Brush, trees and large rattlesnakes are now the only thing they hold, besides my ponderings."

See some photos taken near the ranch in a recent Picture the West.


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The Good Years

The soft sound of hooves on leaves
Shuffling over rock on the slope,
The gentle pull uphill as you look
Praying for grass, praying for hope.

It's autumn and no rain has fallen
No summer monsoons ever came.
Last year's grass is gone to dust
Too many years of the same.

You recall waving gramma grass
Cured brown with seed on the stem
It would put a cow through winter
Up here on the ridge and rim.

But, it rained at least some,
Even those marginal years had grass
The springs and creeks flowed
Laden clouds didn't blow past.

You re-live the really good years
The land was unbelievably green
You rode in mud fixing water gaps
Tanks blown, canyons scoured clean.

Grass and wildflowers was stuff of fairies
Seeds and blooms nodding to dancing dew
Cows and horses sleek and shiny fat
Lord, it was like the land was new.

Those memories keep you hanging on,
Heaven sent rains would finally come.
You have been in tight spots before
Tough old times, you've seen some.

Drier than the dirty thirties
Record dry they say.
God will open the heavens
Wash this drought clean away.

Til then, you pull your hat down
Squint through the dust some more
Summon faith back in your heart
That God will heal this land's sore.

Close your tired eyes against the dust
See the fat cattle and green grass
Feel the moisture on the soft wind
Dream of the good years of the past.

© 2013, Deanna Dickinson McCall
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.



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McGregor

On a curve of the dusty road an old house with skeletal trees
Stands beside a windmill creaking history in the breeze.
It is a survivor, one of a few left to stand
Grim reminder of days when folks worked the land.
In this protected swale cattle graze quietly on grass
That once was home to 100 families of the past.

Scattered in the rugged hills and across the lower flat
Homes of quarried rock, dugouts or walls of board and bat.
Powell, Hamilton, Corn and Lee, others with names I don't know
Names not even allowed on the maps to show
Where homes were razed, burnt and dozed into earth
And dreams, toil and blood came to have no worth.

Stumps of fruit and nut trees, bits of ancient wire
Dirt tanks and ditches dozed and set afire.
Remnants that didn’t burn, crockery, glass, cisterns, iron, cement
Tell of where lives were destroyed and grass is now for rent-
Though ranchers couldn’t remain, they were ordered to leave
Uncle Sam needed the land for a while and they believed.

A short while became forever and more land was taken
While bombs exploded and the very earth was shaken.
At last came the final decree of eminent domain
Ranches, stock, homes weren’t allowed to remain.
Families were moved off, some to lives in town
Where dreams and homes weren’t burned down.

Out on Otero Mesa a dust devil’s dance reaches high
As if to entice the planes and choppers in the sky .
The unpaved hiway cuts through the gramma grass
Lined with signs warning of live bombs and trespass.
El Paso’s haze of light will show eighty miles away
After the red dust from maneuvers settles today.

We travel on the old road back to the east
Toward home and where at least
The sights are gone and the sound muted
Of voices and land still lost, fought and disputed.
Pass John Prather’s monument of land and grave
All that’s left of the ranch he fought to save
While the planes fly high and the missiles low
Over the dusty Basin of Tears below.

© 2014, Deanna Dickinson McCall
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

 

Deanna comments, "We ranch next to the McGregor Bombing Range, part of Ft Bliss. Occasionally we have to go onto the range to gather our cattle. The Range is administered by the BLM, divided into grazing units that are awarded by bids. Public admittance is extremely limited. I hope the poem tells the story of the Range."

She shared this photograph to accompany the poem:

 

 

Book and Recordings

 

Rough Patches

Cover by JaNeil Anderson

This is no collection of saccharin stories of how your mother always told you that, no matter how bad things were, you’d be a better person for it. Instead, this is a group of vignettes that — even when a bit of humor appears — are about dark times. Those are part of life, too.

~~Andy Wilkinson, songwriter, editor, artist


Award-winning writer and poet Deanna Dickinson McCall's book of stories, Rough Patches, published by The Frontier Project Inc., is a rich collection of compelling storytelling. A fourth-generation rancher, Deanna Dickinson McCall raised her family without electricity or a telephone on a remote Nevada ranch and is no stranger to rough patches, herself. She draws on her experience, family stories, history, and her expansive imagination to create captivating stories that stay with a reader long after the book is closed.

Settings range from pioneer days to today's West. In introducing one of the contemporary stories, she writes, "In today's world, women work at jobs previously filled only by their male counterparts, and are offered opportunities never dreamed of by earlier generations. Yet, we are not immune to the same downfalls and insecurities that plague men in similar circumstances."

She continues on that theme, "...In many aspects the West is still a frontier to women. The female role differs in rural and agricultural society here, often crossing previously unseen or blurred lines...Women face their own unique adversities, no more or less than men, just different. Regardless of times or circumstances, the West breeds strong women to face these unique issues..."

These close-to-the-bone stories ring with authenticity. Strife and struggle are faced with grit and determination. Sometimes it all comes to disappointment, and sometimes characters prevail. Always, the stories inspire further contemplation for the reader.

Rough Patches, together with Deanna Dickinson McCall's recent highly praised book of stories and poems, Mustang Spring, displays a breadth of talent and inventiveness.

The book includes these stories:

Cindy's Cows
Mildred's Children
Cistern
Gracie
Darlene's Cancer
Bad Day for the Old Boy
One Crappy Day
Desert Dreams
Sally's Call

Rough Patches is available for $23 postpaid from:

Deanna Dickinson McCall
PO BOX 376
Timberon, NM 88350-0376

www.DeannaDickinsonMcCall.com

and from