Health Limericks

Around 2015, I saw playwright and storyteller Lisa Huberman‘s The Prodigal Vegan—one of several incarnations of the show I’ve attended through the years. A highlight was when Lisa presented Health Limericks, a limerick book that her late grandfather Max Huberman published in 1964; he was ahead of his time! I appreciated how the limericks related to Lisa’s overall story and depiction of her family in The Prodigal Vegan. When my interest in limericks was nascent, I was awestruck by how the quirky, quick verse packed so big a punch. The limericks got their point across with smoothly flowing humor, persuading audiences to listen to messages about health in a way that other poetry or prose would be hard-pressed to accomplish. I reached out to Lisa, and she put her grandfather’s poetry in context:

Any time he sent a card, whether it was for an anniversary or birthday, he always included a personalized limerick in his characteristic block handwriting.

His limericks were pure sunshine, a kind of hope-punk protest for a kid whose odds were stacked against him. He grew up a first-generation Jewish immigrant on the Lower East Side, and ran with a gang. The way the story goes, his mother was worried about the path he was on, and found a rehabilitation program that used theatre as therapy for the juvenile delinquent. There he got exposed for the first time to literature, politics, and the idea that art could be a way to manifest the world we want to see. He started writing poetry, from limericks to Walt Whitman-esque ballads calling attention to the world’s injustices, from racial justice to environmentalism.

When I started compiling There Once Was a Limerick Anthology, which will be published in August, I knew I wanted to include a selection from Health Limericks. I’m happy to share even more limericks from Health Limericks in this blog post; all the limericks are by Max Huberman, and the art above is by Ray Sawyer.

No matter how much you acquire
Or fulfill your every desire,
   What good is your wealth
   When you've ruined your health
And suffer until you expire?

The refiners of food used to say
That spoilage ate profits away.
   Now they're not unnerved,
   Since such foods are preserved
To remain many years on display.

When you're burdened with losses and strain
Till it's plain you are going insane,
   You can find peace of mind
   Being gentle and kind,
Then each loss is offset by a gain.

When cattle are slyly injected
So no one will know they're infected;
   The beef can be sold
   And customers told;
"Don't worry, it's U.S. inspected!"

When the problems of Health seem titanic,
There's really no need that you panic—
   For health that will flourish,
   Eat foods that will nourish
And make sure the food is Organic.

A patient complained with a curse
To his doctor, "I think I feel worse,
   For the food I am fed
   In this hospital bed
You wouldn't dare feed to your nurse!"

"I can't see," said a lady named Fran,
"Why my husband became a sick man,
   For each dish I embellish
   With spices and relish
And feed him nice meals from a can."

If your work leaves you tired and bored
And you pray to have vigor restored,
   Try helping your neighbor,
   For this kind of labor
Will bring you the greatest reward.

From Miss Carson's book, "Silent Spring,"
We learned why robins don't sing.
   Though some may dispute her,
   No one can refute her—
Her truth will forevermore ring!

A bandit who loved to drink beer,
Complained "I must end my career;
   When I yell 'It's a stickup!',
   I burp and I hiccup
And no one believes I'm sincere."

A sick woman said to the baker,
"I suspect you're a bit of a faker,
   For I itch and I twitch
   From this bread you enrich,
Which speeds up my trip to my Maker."

I never could quite comprehend
How intelligent people pretend
   That it's sane or humane
   Spraying grain from a plane
Which poisons the "foe" plus the friend.

When life's full of torment and tension,
Here's an aid to health we should mention—
   Each man is your brother,
   So love one another
And conquer all strife and dissension.

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