James Deering’s yacht was named The Nepenthe after the ancient
drink distilled from flowers so powerful sorrow was said to be forgotten.
I drank from his vessel whenever I went aboard and forgot—
forgot the splintered sides of skiff I boarded at seventeen
bound for Biscayne Bay where I landed a job in the dredges
and learned to drain the ocean from land that insisted on water
forgot the hard climb out of bog to the palace, Vizcaya, built
by hands roughened by salt and stone, calloused enough to endure
the endless heft of water buckets I was first hired to ferry
forgot the names of stonemasons and milkmaids, gardeners, blacksmiths,
forgot the greenhouse heat, the scatter of chicken feed, forgot the prick
of Sandbur, Thorny Leaf, weeds that drew blood when pulled from their soil.
I even forgot the caramel of my lover’s skin, forgot the way back
to my island, forgot myself and pledged my life in service to one
man’s pleasure, donned the white gloves and clutched a clipboard
forgot the meaning of no as I witnessed stone terraces rise from the sea,
every yes ever imagined wrestled from the earth at his whim, safe behind
a hammock of rock land and hard wood. After that, I forgot the words
to my favorite tune, remembered only my mother’s voice, silken
with folksongs, her farewell advice—
Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave It There.
I listened, took my burden and left it on The Nepenthe
years of sorrow congealed into jeweled dregs
grief a perfect ruby at the bottom of my glass.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Eustace Eliger Edgecombe, originally from the Bahamas, worked at Vizcaya from 1917-1969. Vizcaya’s “unofficial house historian,” Edgecombe began as a water boy during Vizcaya’s construction, but was soon promoted to flower boy by Head Housekeeper Cecelia Adair in 1918. He went on to become a houseman and remained an estate caretaker long after James Deering died. –Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Facebook Page