Woman, shadow, palms

The Language of Bodies

By Andra Emilia Fenton

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You’re haunted by the thought of missing bodies. You’ve done so little to discover what happened.



We went to see her the day she arrived. Her skin was no longer brown but red, scraped, peeling in places, dotted with small blisters that had popped under the desert sun. 


When she crossed the Mexican border and made her way to Minnesota, she was chasing the same thing we were: money, independence. But unlike us, she crossed on foot.


A footprint doesn’t have the same permanence everywhere. Due to the nature of the moon’s compactness, Buzz Aldrin’s footprint on the moon made on July 20th, 1969 will most likely remain there for millions of years.


Tom Keifer, who worked as janitor at a Customs and Border Protection center in Arizona during the Bush and Obama years, took photos of the items that had been confiscated from migrants and discarded. He collected the items for more than a decade.

The images included: hairbrushes, cans of tuna fish, little Bibles, tiny toothpastes, toys, rosaries, wallets, condoms, and birth control pills.


What if your face is a map with instructions about where to go? But because you can’t see it you keep getting lost and when you look in the mirror you get the directions backwards?

You could ask someone else to tell you what it says but you’re probably the only one who can read the language of your skin.


Certain tribes in Borneo consider the sight of an oriental dwarf kingfisher to be a bad omen, and warriors who see one on the way to battle should return home. 


In 2021, 57 Central American migrants die in Chiapas when the truck that is carrying them flips over.


When they do return, where do the displaced return to?




The Aztecs saw an eagle on top of a cactus devouring a snake, a sign. That place became the capital of their civilization, Tenochtitlán. And Tenochtitlán became Mexico City. There are many pyramids here, but the two largest are that of the Sun and of the Moon.


Things that were found in excavations of the pyramid of the Moon include: the skeletal remains of a dog, two cats, ten birds, one snake.


You would like to swim again in the underground caves of the Yucatán Peninsula. These cenotes, natural sink holes, were sources of water for the Maya and they consider them to be sacred. For generations, they made offerings to their gods by hurling things into the water:  pieces of jade, gold, disks, humans.


In 2021, Police detain a suspicious man walking toward a river in Puebla carrying a black plastic bag. When they open it they find two human heads. He was on his way to drop them in the river.




You’re haunted by the thought of missing bodies. You’ve done so little to discover what happened, where they are, who put them there. You see, it’s not that you don’t care, you’re afraid to ask questions.


In 2020, different drug cartels hand out dry goods to poor families in Cuernavaca as a form of Covid relief. The dry goods come in bags or cardboard boxes that are branded with the name and logo of the gifting cartel. This way, families know who to stay silent for.


In 2018, a truck flips over on a Michoacán highway spilling dozens of white sacs across the asphalt. Since the sacs are bloody, townspeople fear they contain bodies and call the police. When the police arrive, they discover not humans, but 300 frozen sharks, all of them missing their fins and innards.


A few months later, 168 human skulls are found in a ditch in Veracruz.


You try to forget about the ditches. You try to forget about the guns that have been pointed at you. You try not to think about the posters asking about faces that haven’t been seen in years. You try not to picture the faces that will never appear on posters. Instead, you think about silence and how it’s sometimes necessary for survival and a curse on the soul.    




In 2020, a hospice worker from our Lady of Peace wears a colorful hand-sewn hazmat suit with a ribbon that ties at the waist.

“Do you ever feel scared that you will get sick?” you ask. 

“No, my robes are gifts from the families of patients I’ve cared for. They’re made with love. They keep me safe,” she says.


The last time you see your grandfather alive, you read from the pamphlet the hospice worker has brought: “What appears to be the last breath is often followed by one or two long spaced breaths and the physical body is empty. The owner is no longer in need of a heavy, nonfunctioning vehicle. They have entered a new city, a new life.”

And in that moment, you’re no longer in a sealed house waiting for loss but wondering, Who wrote these beautiful words?



Andra Emilia FentonAndra Emilia Fenton was born in Mexico City. She’s published nonfiction, poetry, and short stories in Ireland, the U.K., and the U.S. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2021 and won FOLIO’s Nonfiction Editor’s Prize in 2022.

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