I turned a corner, and there it was: The Arch. I gulped down my surprise and walked down the cobbled street, toward the strange yellow structure. Plump women in patterned huipiles perched on the sidewalk with baskets of fruit.

Robert Isenberg is a writer based in San José, Costa Rica, where he serves as a reporter, videographer and photojournalist for The Tico Times, Central America’s most respected English-language newspaper. He is the author of The Archipelago: A Balkan Passage and the poetry collection Wander, as well as numerous plays and stage works. Originally from Vermont, he spent 15 years living in and writing about Pittsburgh.

He swiveled around on his bar stool and leaned close to me and put his hands down my shirt. They gave off little sparks. I leaped off my stool like someone escaping flames.

“What the fuck are you doing? I’m married?”

“So what?”

He obviously had no respect for the institution.

Harriet Levin Millan‘s debut novel, How Fast Can You Run, based on the life of “Lost Boy” of Sudan Michael Majok Kuch has been selected as a Charter for Compassion Global Read. She’s the author of two books of poetry, and a third to appear in 2018. Among her prizes are the Barnard New Women Poets Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and directs the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing at Drexel… More…

In the beginning, the Wall was made of barbed wire and soldiers. On some streets, cinder blocks had been stacked. In the Neukölln borough, on Harzer Straße, the Wall was about neck-high. East and West Berliners could look at each other over the Wall but they were not allowed to touch. In a photograph taken on the first day, August 13, 1961, two mothers stand on either side of a coil of wire that reaches to their knees. The babies they hold stretch out to each other, inches of air between their fingers. There seems to be a magnetic repulsion preventing them from holding hands. In another picture from that day, a young man in a crowd stands across from two border guards; a chest-high stack of cement is separating them. The young man appears to be asking one guard a question — both lay their hands on the Wall…. More…

The cab dropped us off at a gas station, and we started to walk down a side street. The asphalt glowed in the early morning sun. My wife and I had never visited this part of San José, and we were too groggy to appreciate the new sights. We followed the directions specifically: 100 meters east of the gasolinera. We found the specified corner, and then we stopped and gawked.

We had expected one man and one vehicle — a Jeep Grand Cherokee, parked on the curb. Instead we found two men, wearing camouflage cargo pants and bandannas over their faces, and a Jeep half-covered in tarp. The men glanced at us. They looked like cartel hitmen. Then they went back to work, waxing the exposed half of the car.

Robert Isenberg is a writer based in San José, Costa… More…

It’s 1827, and you’re a social Englishman. Among fellow English gentlemen, you sit discussing the disappointment that was Mary Shelley’s 1826 novel, The Last Man. Bored with the subject matter, you excuse yourself for the evening. But as you rise from a fine mahogany chair, a hot sensation erupts in your pants pocket. Your trousers are immediately engulfed in flames, and you have to strip them off in front of a room full of astounded guests. Horrified, you slink away, running near-nude to your home as your wife awaits your return. She inquires, “Where are the matches? I’ve been waiting to light the stove for dinner.” This is your third pair of trousers ruined this month. Your wife is not happy. You could have died, and you’re fresh out of pants. It’s 1827, and friction-lit matches were recently invented, but a vessel for transport that will prevent them from igniting… More…

The 1940s film Portrait of Jennie begins up in the clouds, with questions: “What is time?” asks a voice. “What is space? What is life? What is death?” A quote from Euripides comes onscreen to the strains of Debussy:

WHO KNOWETH IF TO DIE BE BUT TO LIVE … AND THAT CALLED LIFE BY MORTALS BE BUT DEATH?

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.

One lure of taking photographs is that you get to hide behind a machine and safely observe the world. You get to look, without being seen. This was especially true in the early days of photography when photographic equipment was bulky and when exposing the film or plate required a dark area at the back of the camera. The dark area was created with a black hood. The experience of taking a picture meant getting under that black hood and entering another world from which you could watch the real world outside. The pleasure of it must have been like being in a pillow fort as a child. You are in a safe and hidden space, but you get to peer out through the cracks between the pillows in order to see what all the adults are doing.

Here in the crowded retina clinic, we’re waiting to have pictures taken of our macula with marvelous cameras, the backs of our eyes are about to be zapped with lasers or, like me, our central retinal veins have occluded — fancy term for a blood clot — and the retinas have swollen. The result is blurred and distorted vision. Luckily, only my right eye is afflicted.

I’ve already read the chart — could barely make out the large E at the top — and have had dilating drops put into my eyes, so now I’m waiting for my pupils to become pie tins, big enough for someone to look all the way into my soul.

Albert DiBartolomeo is the author of two novels, several short stories, numerous commentaries for the Philadelphia Inquirer and other publications, and has written for Readers Digest,… More…

A few years ago, the journalist Janet Malcolm interviewed the German artist Thomas Struth in Dusseldorf. She accompanied him to a nearby factory where he photographed industrial machines. Malcolm watched from a distance as Struth worked at his meticulous and time-consuming process. At one point in this visit, Struth discussed the work and influence of Bernd and Hilla Bechers, his photography instructors at the Dusseldorf Academy where he studied art in the 1970s. The Bechers produced a huge collection of now iconic black and white photographs of water towers, coal burners, blast furnaces and factory facades gathered from the industrial landscapes of the Rurh valley near Bernd’s childhood home. The work spans nearly three decades beginning in the late 1950s. What they produced were cool and crisp images, repetitive in composition, and nearly hypnotic when viewed together. The lighting is always overcast to avoid shadows. The distance between camera and… More…

The great Austrian novelist Robert Musil, born like Mencken in 1880, placed these prophetic words in the mouth of his protagonist Ulrich, in The Man without Qualities: “One can’t be angry with one’s own time without damage to oneself.” It’s a warning H. L. Mencken may never have read, or have held up to him as a caution by a friend or an enemy, but it suits his case as well as anything he wrote or had written about him. He was a cultural and political malcontent who hurled anathemas left and right and aligned himself with no one. His favorite boast was that resistance to the status quo was in his bloodstream. “How did I get my slant on life?” he replied in an interview in 1926. “My ancestors for 300 years back were all bad citizens… They were always against what the rest were for… I was prejudiced… More…