Rust is a form of fire


by Joe Fiorito

(Gurenica Editions 2015

Softcover 115 pages $20)

JOE FIORITO was born and raised in Thunder Bay. His memoir The Closer We Are To Dying, published in 1999, was about his father and growing up in Fort William. The book won the inaugural edition of Northwestern Ontario Reads, hosted by CBC Radio.

Fiorito has published five books, accumulating numerous awards along the way. He is currently a nationally syndicated columnist for The Toronto Star.

Rust Is A Form Of Fire is a slim book curious in form and sublime in execution. For three consecutive days one August he sat on a street corner in downtown Toronto and observed. He noted what he observed.

After accumulating eighteen hours of observations, he went away and assembled this book.

The chapters of the book are divided by each day and by the time of each day when he noted the things he saw.

And people he saw. And events. August is a month when you can sit comfortably outside, and when others move about more or less freely in the city.

Here is how Fiorito describes the corner he picked for his observing:

“Why did I chose the corner of Queen and Victoria, as opposed to some iconic Toronto intersection? I chose it precisely because it is not iconic. It is not Queen and Yonge, with its shiny window displays and its tourists; nor is it Queen and Sherbourne, with its pawn shops and men’s shelters.

It is not Bloor and Yonge. Thank goodness.”

What Fiorito captures from his observations on that corner is a richly layered mosaic of the city. Mosaic isn’t quite right. What is? He writes in snippets. Short phrases. Sometimes just a few words, or a run on a series of words. Occasionally there are almost extended paragraphs.

Form is content. “The medium is the message.”

Reading Rust Is A Form Of Fire is a little like reading a dictionary, each item is crisp and clean.

Perhaps like an encyclopedia, in their breadth and depth, except that Fiorito isn’t interested in explanations so much as simply notation.

He captures both the beauty and the detritius around him, and makes little judgements in his observation. Sometimes he lets the judgements slip in, intentionally:

“Four girls in front of the juice joint, youthfully awkward, two of them wearing patterned stockings, all of them wearing short skirts, with their shoulders hunched forward as if they were trying to hide the fact that they have breasts.

One of the girls has a tattoo on the back of her thigh. She’s a heavy girl. She will regret the tattoo, or use it to test others: fail the test and earn her scorn.

Heels, loafers, flip-flops.

Sneakers, oxfords, sneakers.

Sneakers with white ankle socks”.

Fiorito’s notations are, on the surface, real life, honest and factual.

His minute and focused commentary, however, is much more than that.

It comes from a depth of experiential maturation, from accumulated wisdom and folly. The gifts in this book are there because Fiorito is a seasoned journalist and an urban dweller, and a world elder.

As you move deeper into the book, the experience is what I imagine a marathon swim is like.

You begin to have a sense of the larger space around you, and then the larger space around that. Everything is happening in front of you while simultaneously everything is moving past you.

There is no sense of stasis, but rather an accumulation of detail that grows to be a deep and rippling ocean of experience.

He closes his observations at midnight on the third day. I feel a sense of reverence, of awe at what I have just read.

Rust Is A Form Of Fire is a throbbing, breathing book. Full of life and insight, with both reflective and forward projecting homilies. That’s it. There it is: it is a hymn book of the living city.

Micheal Sobota is a Thunder Bay-based writer.

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