“Self-Portrait as Elizabeth Holmes” by Carrie Shipers

Carrie Shipers


In 2015, a series of investigations exposed as false Holmes’s claim to have developed a device to perform fast, inexpensive blood tests on miniscule samples. In January 2022, she was found guilty on multiple charges of fraud.

If I’d left Stanford early because I was sick
of teachers saying my ideas weren’t feasible;
if I’d already planned the kind of founder
I would be—black-clad, aloof yet 
passionate—before I knew which field 
I’d innovate; if I chose blood because 
when mine was drawn I’d vomit, faint 
and hyperventilate; if my pitch deck
was impeccable, my proof of concept praised
despite its vague science; if I attracted 
millions in funding, fans eager to applaud 
a young woman in tech; if I was too busy 
vowing Theranos could heal health care 
to be aware progress had clotted to a halt,
that lifting off the prototype’s sleek shell 
revealed a mess of pipettes crushed 
by clumsy robot arms, spilled blood gumming 
the works; if our launch date had grown 
closer and more definite because we’d 
partnered with Walgreens; if my engineers 
complained my promises weren’t possible, 
and if instead of being motivating, 
my rage triggered defections and delays; 
if once our clinics were open, the finger-prick 
sample our patients gave proved not enough 
to run most tests, even when diluted 
and spread thin; if in order to buy time, 
combat the grim panic the lab had grown 
infected with, I asked my staff to correct 
wrong results, then went further and installed
one of the huge machines I meant to render
obsolete; if my dream was under siege
by doctors doubting my values, employees
blowing bitter whistles, the FDA
demanding evidence; if I was sure
my phone was tapped, my apartment
being circled by black cars; if I’d poured
years of my life-blood into my company
and still believed we needed just a few 
more weeks—six months at very most—
to make my invention real, to stop
the fevered flood of blame and bleach
my record clean; then I, too, might’ve
clung to the pristine, inspiring story
that I’d started with: I might’ve lied
and lied and lied while the indictments
piled up, and kept at it until my last
nanotainer of hope was broken and drained.

from Rattle #81, Fall 2023


Carrie Shipers: “I’ve been fascinated by Elizabeth Holmes since I read Ken Auletta’s profile of her in 2014. Her actions are obviously despicable, and yet I understand, I think, how it feels to want something to be true so much that you’re willing to ignore all available evidence and to keep doubling down on your denial because you’re afraid of being exposed and humiliated, and that’s what I wanted to explore in this poem.” (web)

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