Acequia del Llano


The word acequia is derived from the Arabic as-saqiya (water conduit)and refers to an
irrigation ditch that transports water from a river to farms and fields, as well as the
association of members connected to it.

                                                            Blossoming peach trees—
                                                            to the west, steel buildings glint 
                                                            above the mesa.                                                         

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Acequia del Llano is one and a half miles long and begins
at Nichols Reservoir dam. At the bottom of the dam, an outlet structure and flow meter
control water that runs through a four-inch pipe at up to one hundred-fifty gallons per
minute. The water runs along a hillside and eventually drops into the Santa Fe River.
Fifteen families and two organizations belong to this ditch association, and the acequia
irrigates about thirty acres of gardens and orchards.

                                                            In the ditch, water flowing—
                                                            now an eagle-feather wind.


Yarrow, rabbitbrush, claret cup cactus, one-seed juniper, Douglas fir, and scarlet
penstemon are some of the plants in this environment. Endangered and threatened species
include the southwestern willow flycatcher, the least tern, the violet-crowned
hummingbird, the American marten, and the white-tailed ptarmigan. 

                                                            Turning my flashlight 
                                                            behind me, I see a large 
                                                            buck, three feet away.

Each April, all of the members come, or hire workers who come, to do the annual spring
cleaning; this involves walking the length of the ditch, using shovels and clippers to clear
branches, silt, and other debris.

                                                            Twigs, pine needles, plastic bags
                                                            cleared today before moonrise—                  


The ditch association is organized with a mayordomo, ditch manager, who oversees the
distribution of water according to each parciante’s (holder of water rights) allotment. The
acequia runs at a higher elevation than all of the land held by the parciantes, so the flow of
water is gravity fed. 

                                                            Crisscrossing the ditch,
                                                            avoiding cholla,
                                                            I snag my hair on branches.

Each year the irrigation season runs from about April 15 to October 15. On Thursdays
and Sundays, at 5:30 a.m., I get up and walk about a quarter of a mile uphill to the ditch
and drop a metal gate into it. When the water level rises, water goes through screens 
then down two pipes and runs below to irrigate grass, lilacs, trees, and an orchard. 

                                                            Across the valley, ten lights
                                                             glimmer from hillside houses.


Orion and other constellations of stars stand out at that hour. As it moves toward summer,
the constellations shift, and, by July 1, when I walk uphill, I walk in early daylight. By
mid-September, I again go uphill in the dark and listen for coyote and deer in between the
piñons and junipers. 

                                                            One by one, we light
                                                            candles on leaves, let them go
                                                            flickering downstream.

The Ganges River is 1,569 miles long. The Rio Grande is l,896 miles long; it periodically
dries up, but when it runs its full length, it runs from its headwaters in the mountains of
southern Colorado into the Gulf of Mexico. Water from the Santa Fe River runs into the
Rio Grande. Water from the Acequia del Llano runs into the Santa Fe River. From a
length of one hundred paces along the acequia, I draw our allotment of water.

                                                            Here, I pull a translucent 
                                                            cactus spine out of your hand.

From The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems by Arthur Sze (Copper Canyon Press, 2021). Copyright © 2021 by Arthur Sze. Used with the permission of the poet.