Volume 15 • Number 1 • Spring-Summer 2023

Jennifer Hernandez

A Case of the Vapors

I imagine my mother as a silhouette, water diffused in air -- suspended, floating. Not quite transparent -- not solid nor liquid -- both states in equilibrium.

Why can’t I talk to her? People keep telling me that she’s still here. Am I just a bad listener?

In an era when we were expected to conform to strict rules, women were often diagnosed with “the vapors”. Especially women considered to be free spirits.

They said the vapors emanated from our wombs, causing us to be overcome with dizziness, anxiety, hysteria. Not to mention bloating, fainting, digestive issues, and behavior problems.

Sounds like the symptoms of motherhood.

The suggested remedy was rest. And smelling salts. Or sometimes an asylum.

The veil between worlds is said to be thinnest at certain times. All Hallows’ Eve. Twilight.

Or during transitions. The sacred, misty time of caring for a newborn. Or easing a loved one into death.

Jennifer Hernandez, teacher/writer, is a member of the League of Minnesota Poets. Her poems can be found in many print and online journals — most recently, Talking Stick, Heron Tree, and Spring Thaw — but she most enjoys sharing her work in readings and public installations — such as Minneapolis Poetry Sanctuary, the Poet/Artist Collaboration of Red Wing Arts, Poets & Pints, and the Nature Area Poetry Walk at Richfield Lake Park — as the interaction between word and audience is where the magic happens.