I left a woman in San Gimignano
and hitchhiked to Siena to watch
a horse race in a medieval square
in the middle of the city.
I tried not to think about the woman I left
because there was another woman
in America I was supposed to be thinking about.
I was walking along the Italian roadway
next to a golden wheat field in August
and I wasn't even sure if I wanted a ride
it was so nice outside with soft susurrus
of the wheat husks in the warm wind.
But a man in a hatchback gave me a ride
and I told him in broken Italian
that I was going to Il Palio in Siena
and he told me I would be glad I did.
I looked out the window and remembered
this amazing bowl of soup I had eaten
the night before in Sam Gimignano
at a cafe that overlooked a cemetery
and how Katie had had no interest in going
with me to Siena and how I'd considered
staying with her for the day but she insisted.
In Siena the edge of the Piaza
had been turned into a dirt track
and in the middle were thousands of people.
I found an open spot and ate my lunch
and watched a parade of medieval knights
and jesters and damsels
and then I learned from some people sitting next to me
that there were 17 neighborhoods in Siena
and each one got to race a horse in Il Palio
and the prior year's winner always got a running start.
I asked where they were from and they said "Nichio"
and when the race started it took only two minutes
for the thoroughbreds to go around twice
and one horse crashed into a wall and had to be euthanized
but Nichio's horse won and I jumped up and down
and up with my arms around my new friends
and then the crowd surrounded the winner
yelling "Nichio! Nichio!" and we all started to move
out of the Piazza and up a hill to the Duomo
where the horse and rider were going to be blessed with holy water
but I slipped away and walked back through town
to the bus station where I caught the first bus back
to San Gimignano because I was thinking about Katie
and about the night we had spent together on a cliff
between the first and second towns in the Cinque Terre
because no more rooms were available when we arrived
and how as we lay there in the grass looking at the stars
she had told me that she had just that summer
found the courage to paint a nude self-portrait.
When I got back to the youth hostel
she had gone out with friends.
I went back to the cafe across from the cemetery
and had another bowl of the soup
and thought about the woman in America
I was supposed to be thinking about the whole time.
She sent me packages with long letters
written with a Mont Blanc in a beautiful flowing hand.
The soup had beans and greens and old bread floating around in it
and the towers of San Gimignano rose up sternly
like adults shaking their fingers at me.
The next morning Katie was back and she said
she wanted to go to Siena so we took the bus
and checked into the youth hostel and walked
around Siena. I showed her where the race had been
and the dirt was still in the square
and then I found a magazine that had just come out
and there were already pictures from the race
and on page 15 there I was, jumping up in the crowd
as the horse crossed the finish line.
That night we hung out with a Spanish guy
who cooked an omlet seductively over a bunsen burner.
I went to bed and slept late in the morning.
When I woke Katie was gone.
She had left me a note
saying that she really had to go home
and was sorry and that she loved me.
I've always wondered what she meant by that.
Chad Reynolds is the author of two chapbooks: Victor in the New World (Rope-a-Dope Press, 2008) and City of Tomorrow (Greying Ghost Press, forthcoming in 2013).