Those who build subway tunnels for money, let them go up to the sunlight and rest. Those who are rats in the subway, let them dream of the freedom in sunlight. Let them be the subway train, let them grow silver wheels. Let them be the passengers on trains, let them hurtle upwards, let them see gravestones out the windows, let them lie beside gravestones and drink mango juice, let them give thanks to the dead poets who built and dug and created realia, the beautiful things of the upper world.

Even the sunlight talks, even the sun has a voice. The sun says: My beloved died first, then she became music, then I died. I died in my body, I was once a rat but I died, accompanied by music. At that time I understood nothing but pain. I loved my pain, it gave me a self to shield from all other rats.

But (the sun says) I died as a rat. Most rats cling to their ratness, and when they die their teeth stay locked around their ideal, they bite and hold their picture of a rat, their ghost rat. In death a rat hopes for greatness. Greatness is the immortal defeat of all other rats. If everybody agrees you’re the greatest rat, you’ll never die except in your body. You’ll possess yourself like a treasure, you won’t lose yourself ever.

I lost myself even while I was alive. I lost my pain and also my ability to describe pain. At that time I was already the sun, if I had known it.

I was in a tunnel. Train headlights traveled through me. I had a thousand empty hands. My thighs were the graveyards. My fur was the seaweed. My claws were the mind. My eyes were exile.

Train, don’t destroy me completely. Don’t make me forget everything. I used to love to hear a story, didn’t I? I don’t know what a story is. What have I done to lose everything? I asked to be cleansed of what others want. But I was cleansed of what I want.

That world up above’s populated by beloveds, beautiful and kind to each other. Humans carry rats gently along the footpath in their cupped palms. When two humans meet, they hug and rub heads together and bring their rats together for a kiss.

A hand is holding a gate open. It’s morning. Why did you wait so long to come to me? With his eyes closed, Rat can see this thought speaking from this hand.

Rat suffers because he loves one who isn’t here. He’s thin because her existence keeps him from sleeping. He can’t describe her, she isn’t enlightened, she isn’t beautiful, she isn’t part of the beyond, she isn’t a rat, she isn’t a passenger. She isn’t this and isn’t that. He can’t picture her, he can’t hear her voice.

Blackness is light blocked. Black has light behind it.

Tunnels were built by great creatures. Concrete and tar are the wish that love be eternal. Blackness doesn’t just happen.

The train arrives, the creator arrives, the size of all you can think, the size of one million rats, the creator roaring its million squeaks, the creator of black tunnels, creator of light, creator of sound, the creator rushing past again, destroying thought, destroying sight, destroying remembering, your creator’s a few inches away from you, you don’t exist, you’re all train.

Even to say you love the train, that’s nothing, there’s no you to love. The train’s everything.

Then it goes away. It carries the universe away, but the black remembers where it’s been dazzled.

The other rats come back to themselves. Rats search for the hamburger bun they smelled before the dazzlement.

One rat in the dark keeps his eyes closed.

This rat’s the faint pulse of light behind black. Heart fixed on glowing light behind black.

Those who throw garbage on the track, those who light the track fire, they wait for the end of the world.

I’m ignorant, I’m made of this dark. In ignorance I ask about the creation of tunnels, the destination of the track, the source of light. Let the one who knows come and tell us.

The rat was created by somebody who knows nothing about rats. Even a rat can deliver a message; even a rat can be a passenger.

A rat can’t sing a hymn, a rat can’t request his message be delivered. The train can’t be talked to. Wheels aren’t slowed by smoke. Wheels don’t feel fire. Wheels can’t be purified further. What drives the wheel never ages.

Train. Bringer of sound, bringer of death.

Train, who carries all the faces away.

Train who’s never been stopped by any rat.

O death, o train.

Carry us into the light above.

Unite us with the beloved.

Train, who built you?

Eyes that destroy eyes.

Feet that destroy feet.

Hollow, roaring, not-caring.

We hesitate next to the rail, we skitter off silently, no one catches us.

Teach us to get caught.

We’re slaves to food. Teach us to run like you do, fed on noise and light and nothing.

When rats dream we see ourselves wearing silver chains eighteen links long. We’re fastened to the dark. The creator of the train, he chained us here.

When the train approaches, the wind blows, air dazzles like headlights. We dug these tunnels, I remember digging, but who built the train? Who arranged the emptiness inside the train? Who fixed the color of blackness? You, train, created the train. You, train, make the wind. You, train, set the chains. Where you go, the tunnels follow.

You push, you create. You made me dig for you. You create wind, you create fear, you create noise and light. When you created rats, did you make them out of light, or noise, or fear?

We love your indifference. We praise the destruction in your wheels. When you vanish, you make the silence and the darkness, the misery is yours, the next anticipation is yours.

One famous rat stood on the track as you arrived. He told you to stop, he stood up and shone his eyes back at you. You took him and now he’s with you. We pray to the absence you create. We offer devotion. Little offerings of food line up on the rails. No god devours with such total glory.

If a rat can fly, who cares? If a rat can write words, will that amaze us? A rat could wave his tail and turn a peanut-shell into piles of candy floss, and we wouldn’t notice. We’re visited every hour by the creator of everything, tricks can’t impress us.

The noise of wheels is in the breath of the female rat. The glare of lights is in the breath of the male rat. The pink child they make together, is it important? Does it expect to distract me from my worship?

To the rat whose mind is filled with the train, the smell of garbage is a silver track. The electrified rail is a finger of heaven. The black tunnel is the beginning of the dream. Sparks are the bumping of his heart. The train as it rushes past, never passes. The train as it rushes past, never leaves.

Rats are the body of the train, rat blood is the fuel of the train. Rats can roar and destroy tunnels, they just don’t know it. When any rat dies, a universe of black tunnels is flooded.

The tail of the rat curves like subway cars. Gray fur is its own moonlight. The skittishness of the rat is worshipped by the dark. Fear is the heat, fear makes the electricity of rat-life.

I’ll walk on the track you travel. When you arrive, I hear you in my feet first. My feet are wheels, my terror of you is anticipation.

The train’s not hungry, the train is hunger. A rat who dies of thirst moans like your brakes. You don’t bring food or drink, you created us empty because your cars are empty, you’re howling.

Unless the train turns inside-out, the passenger will never get to heaven. When the train turns inside-out, the heart of every rat’s visible to every other rat.

Unless the train’s empty, we will have no insides to breathe into. Unless the train’s full, feelings won’t enter our hearts. A rat without emptiness won’t move; a rat without fullness won’t love.

No rat can ride a train, but we dream. In dreams we climb tiled walls, we fly through ducts, we float invisible among passengers. The passengers don’t know they’re a dream.

We live in dirt, we eat garbage, and our dreams are filled with love and light. Should we lay our dreams on the track to sacrifice, or our filthy bodies?

If our dreams are illusions, we don’t want dreams. If dreams are your love, we only want dreams. How can we understand you when you don’t talk?

Born as rats, we passed through the vaginas of rats. Self-created creator, where have you dropped us? Take us with you. If you deliver passengers to hell, take us there. Living in holes, climbing over each other, we lack wheels to escape.

When will we crush you to our hearts, when will we catch you? Give us the strength.

Rats crawl over me on their way to the greater darkness. Their belly fur scrapes my head. They need to eat. They’re terrified, they can’t rest. They itch to dig, they dig in the air.

They’re my mass, they’re my fur, they slink off when I’m scared, they gnaw when I’m hungry. They’re my rat body.

This body is of fur. It has tail, gnawing teeth. It’s hot, a train’s cold.

A train’s cold, this body here should be metal-cold.

Destroy my body, it’s full of rat, the rat’s throughout. What thinks is the rat. This voice, rat.

James Chapman lives in New York. He's author of nine novels, most recently The Rat Veda.