Olivia Romo

Los Ojos Sagrados de San Jose

It was a dry windy December in the town of Cebolleta—
the first Spanish settlement west of the Rio Grande.

An acequia meeting rolled farmers into the community center like a tumbleweed—
tangled with politics and power over the last drops of water from sacred Mount Taylor.

Dusty boots—
chapped red faces
voting by acreage
unable to find people to clean the ditches anyway!

I sit there—
but afraid that if the water rights are taken away

these people will have no reason to live here—
this way

I joined the hermano mayor to the morada in Moquino after the meeting
where only three penitentes survive.
But at my surprise, I am greeted by a particular Saint
Doña Sebastiana.

I know what this means, so this is the prayer I bring:

do not kill the last farmers!
They are doing everything they can to irrigate, grow food,
and heard livestock into the sacred sierras.
the sierras of San Mateo.

But the spirit of the mountain is under attack—

mining coal, uranium, and water.
Now the pueblos are serving our people with legal documents, litigating for the water that was rightfully theirs.

Pero no puedemos a regar con sangre!
No hay mas agua!
No hay mas tierra!
Santa Muerte spare the last farmers.
Spare the sacred springs—
the last drops of clean water the mountain has left to give.
These ojos are the womb of Mount Taylor.
Was refuge for Spanish settlers in the 1700’s.
Portals to other worlds and ancestors to the Diné.

Los ojos, sage speckled green—
like the eyes of a coyote cowboy who hisses spanish
better than a rattle snake.
The last vaquero in Western New Mexico to run 4,000 head of cattle!
Can you see him?
Rolling his cigaro on his strongest caballo,
his hat faded from the wicked nails of the sun.
Este sierreño lets out a sharp whistle from his chapped lips,
running the heard deep into the sierras.
The cows moan and kick up yellow earth.

Santa muerte—
spare the dying cows
spare the dry earth
spare the young people who need to quit
running the tractor to run the power plant.

Ancestors, send us rain!
Let justice relieve these fields so the children can taste their inheritance,
in apples grown from abuelito arboles.
Semillas de la conquista—
grown from Acoma tears.
Wheldee—the long walk!
Those tears will wash away the remnants of the fort in Cebolleta
but can’t seem to wash the bloodshed from el misión de San Estévan.
San Jose—
fighting over contaminated creeks and streams.
Una cochinada como el Rio Puerco!

Ojo del Gallo, he no longer cries instead he is a rooster who fights,
drunkenly through the night down at the watering hole known as Palomas.
Cocking his head back round after round until the bottle breaks.

Now we stand in the priority line with our vessel dry.
It is you who REALLY makes the decision on who lives or dies.
So I surrender to you Sebastiana,
mis huesos, sangre, y mi fe pa que el agua regrese.
My eyes slowly lift and my ears hum with the growing alabados of the penitentes—
bringing me back into time.

After the prayers are done, I leave the morada so much lighter.
I scale the mountain back to the springs where I give my offering of tobacco
and one day—
I will offer up my ashes.
For we will all return back to the earth
and all of these legal claims over her body will be erased and evaporated back into the clouds!


the lips of the earth are cracked, puckered in prayer to you.
Can you see our crops continuing to struggle to the surface?
You cannot take the lifeblood from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains—
our God has sacrificed enough!

My father and I release our fishing lines into the Rio Grande, our smiles, sparkling like the curve of a trout splashing out of the water.
Pilar is a beautiful place to be in early spring, the water is cold and the pine needles soft with new growth.

“Let me feel the rhythm” he says, while stringing his hook with pink pearls.
After a few bites and a broken line—
he caught a fish with almost every cast.
Some, leaping to the surface and I squeezing their slippery bodies that flopped for freedom, leaving my hands shimmering like mica.
Aye que tesoro!

It has become so hot, that the boulders have bruises on their shoulders—
from her water rushing down south, water being pumped from her mouth.
Even though we are hungry the river keeps disappearing.
Even though the animals are thirsty the river keeps disappearing.
Even though the acequias are drying, we keep praying—

We witnessed a miracle—
a heard of bighorn sheep climbing down to the river.
One large ram wore a crown of cactus tangled in his curling horns.
Fearlessly he drank and his ewes followed faithfully.
After they satisfied their thirst, proudly they stood, staring at us,
as if they knew
that we were thirsty too.
Surviving off the land that is disappearing.

Respectfully we watched as two rams charged head on—
first leaping then crashing down like Xolotl,
the similar sound of a 12-gauge shotgun.
over the land and thirst.

My name is Olivia Romo and I am a farmer, poet and water rights activist from Taos, NM. As a female subsistent farmer, I frequently confront and resist the commodification and gentrification of agricultural land and water in my community. I intentionally focus my activism through poetry as a way to educate and mobilize New Mexicans around the risks and uncertainties of our natural resources. Yet, like many young people from rural communities, I left my humble village to peruse an education and to obtain the professional skills necessary to make meaningful contributions back home. In 2015, I earned my dual Bachelor’s degrees in English and Chicana/o Studies from the University of New Mexico. Yet, during my time as I student I also excelled in my creative endeavors. In 2011, I was titled the New Mexico State Slam Poetry Champion and later went on to become the featured Storyteller at the 21st Annual Taos Storytelling Festival in 2019. My published works are an oral history documentation and cookbook titled, “The Gift of Good Food” that honors traditional recipes, people and families who prepared them. My poems were also published by the New York Times in the 2019 magazine “Work Songs of the Cowboy Poets”. My flagship poem “Bendición del agua” was featured in the Western Folklife Center’s “Moving Rual Verse” series in 2017. I am a bilingual poet whose language is immersed in the regional Manito dialect and culture of Northern New Mexico. I continue my journey in reclaiming my language, ancestral seeds, and stories of resilience every day. I am committed to honoring and preserving the voices of the forgotten West and the indigenous people who occupy and thrive in dangerous territory.